Mesquite to Ethanol Machine
Mesquite is a deciduous tree, commonly found in Northern Mexico and the United States. Because of its long roots and ability to flourish in dry climates, mesquite trees can be quite a frustrating nuisance for farmers and ranchers alike. Mesquite trees can use up a lot of water because their roots grow deep in order to tap into local water tables. This limits the growth of other important plant forms like grasslands for cattle grazing. A new technology promises to help solve this ongoing problem by harvesting and converting mesquite into ethanol fuel, which can then be used to power farm equipment and vehicles.
Dr. Jim Ansley is a Rangleland Ecologist at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in College Station, Texas. He says the station has been conducting research into ethanol fuel technology and has developed a prototype mesquite harvester machine. Last month the machine was showcased as a part of the Texas Agricultural Research Center’s 2006 Range and Wildlife Field Day. Ansley says the mesquite harvesting machine will be ready for commercial production soon.
Dr. Ansley does not think that we will see mesquite to ethanol technology being used in big urban refineries. The transportation costs of delivering the mesquite make the process too expensive. He hopes the machine will help rural Texans meet their energy needs on a small scale, but would like to see widespread use make a positive impact on the economy.
According to Ansley, one ton of mesquite wood chips have the potential to produce 200 gallons of ethanol. By these calculations, an acre of dense mesquite trees could yield up to 2,000 gallons of fuel. A Commercial Ethanol Refinery has the potential of producing five million gallons of ethanol every year. Ansley would like to see the construction of 400 to 1,000 new ethanol refineries built in rural areas across the state of Texas. To protect the local ecosystem and remain sustainable, farmers would have to harvest only 10 percent of their mesquite trees. Mesquite has a ten year re-growth rate.
A prototype ethanol plant in Mississippi is currently using a patented process to test the conversion of wood to ethanol. Researchers are currently studying mesquite size and density properties. In order to predict costs and earnings, they are factoring in the harvesting time and fuel needs associated. The cost of building an ethanol refinery is expected to be about 8 million dollars, and will have an estimated 2 million dollars in profits every year.