Biofuel operations take root in Fla.
Farmland around Lake Okeechobee is attracting the interest of companies hoping to make ethanol for blending with Florida's gasoline.
A Fort Lauderdale company recently announced plans to build three plants, producing up to 100-million gallons of ethanol using locally grown sweet sorghum, a plant similar to sugarcane.
"We are currently negotiating with four top farming entities in the state," said Aaron Pepper, chief executive of Southeast Renewable Fuels, a startup company hoping to break into the growing biofuels market.
Production could begin by late 2010.
Earlier this year, Florida passed legislation requiring that all state gasoline contain at least 10 percent ethanol, creating a market for 1-billion gallons.
"This is an untapped market," said Pepper, noting that the state's ethanol is currently imported by truck or ship from Midwest plants that make it from corn. Some sugarcane ethanol is also imported from Brazil and the Caribbean.
Another company interested in beginning production near Okeechobee is Tampa's Highlands Envirofuels, which received a $7-million state grant this year to help build a 20-million-gallon plant, also using sweet sorghum.
The plants are designed to generate their own power by burning agricultural waste to create electricity.