Crist hypes biofuels at fuel summit

07/19/07 Seán Kinane
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Last year Florida created a “Farm to Fuel Initiative” to encourage Florida farmers and ranchers to produce biofuel crops like ethanol and biodiesel.

Today at the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson hosted the Farm To Fuel Summit.

Gov. Charlie Crist, the keynote speaker, is a staunch advocate.

“You know, renewable energies, biofuel, solar, wind, all of these kinds of things are very exciting in terms of what we can do in our future. But Farm to Fuel might be one of the most exciting of all,” he said.

Crist announced that he would lead a trade mission to Brazil in November to promote trade and technology exchange. Brazil is a leader in the use of ethanol as a vehicle fuel. Crist said that Brazil is Florida’s largest trading partner, with more than $11-billion in trade per year.

“Brazil is doing an awful lot about ethanol. ... Just about every vehicle is powered by ethanol. And as the General Counsel, who I visited with from Brazil last week told me, it’s not from corn. If you grow corn, god bless you, I love you, that’s great. But we have such an abundance of sugar cane. Most of theirs is derived from sugar cane. Guess what Florida has a lot of? Sugar cane and citrus waste.”

But many environmentalists are concerned that the production of ethanol and other biofuels harms the environment. WMNF asked Crist if he thought that an increase in the farming of sugar cane as a feedstock for ethanol production might harm the Everglades the way the Amazon has been deforested for biofuel crops in Brazil.

“Well we’ve got to protect both. You know, it’s important to be smart about what we do, to protect our environment, and also continue to develop technology that keeps the rest of our environment clean, too. And it can be done,” Crist said.

The state’s Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, also thinks Florida could produce ethanol crops in a more sustainable way than Brazil.

Bronson said that in addition to using crops to create fuel, waste products could also be converted to energy.

Read Smith is co-chair of a group called 25x’25, which want to insure that 25 percent of the country’s energy will be derived from renewable sources by the year 2025.

Smith moderated a panel on the status of renewable energy and fuels. He said that the use of renewable energy could actually be cheaper than the use of fossil fuels.

“We have some early indications that we can actually produce energy cheaper in the future than our dependence on foreign oil.”

According to Smith, the economy could get a $700-billion boost through renewables.

The use of ethanol as an alternative fuel is also controversial because, like gasoline, it releases greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned.

Matt Hartwig is the director of communications for the Renewable Fuels Association, the Ethanol industry’s national trade association. He said that greenhouse gas emissions would be at least 18 percent less if the country switched to ethanol fuel.

David Shiflett is vice president of business development for World Energy, one of the largest exporters of biodiesel to Europe. He said that farmers are trying to decide between planting corn, which can be used to make ethanol, or soybeans, which is a common biodiesel feedstock.

Gov. Crist also announced that Florida Power and Light, or FPL, plans to build an ethanol plant.

"So good things continue to happen,” Crist said.

Tampa’s planned ethanol plant will use corn trucked in from outside the state for most of its feedstock.

Alex Sink said she felt, “not too good” about the practice. She eventually wants Florida’s own agricultural products, like orange peels and tomato plants, to be the source of biomass used to produce biofuels.

Crist applauded those who attended the Farm to Fuel Summit because they were leading the way toward renewable sources of energy.

The summit concludes tomorrow and WMNF will cover the summit on tomorrow’s Evening News. To learn more, visit

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A series in Grist on biofuels

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