Oklahoma draws biofuel interest at BIO 2009

Switchgrass is popular topic in Atlanta for Noble Foundation officials

Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 7:00 am By: Jim Stafford

The Oklahoman

ATLANTA - The exhibition hall at the BIO 2009 trade show had been opened for only a few minutes Tuesday morning when a visitor to the Oklahoma booth inquired about switchgrass as a biofuel alternative.

Steve Rhines, vice president and general counsel with the Noble Foundation patiently answered the questions from the visitor from Taiwan.

Rhines soon sat down for an interview with a North Carolina-based technology publication called TriangleTechNews. Other impromptu meetings followed.

The subject? Switchgrass as a biofuel alternative.

It was that kind of day for the Noble Foundation executive, who was in constant demand to discuss the research that the Ardmore-based organization is conducting into the use of cellulosic ethanol as an alternative to food-based ethanol sources such as corn or sorghum.

"The Noble Foundation through its own reputation and through its association with the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center has developed a national reputation for the work it's doing primarily in switchgrass development," Rhines said. "Everybody understands that this industry has to be grown from the ground up and depends largely on agriculture producers. The work that we are doing to produce a better switchgrass and how it should be grown has clearly become important to this bio industry group."

Why the attention?
The Noble Foundation has focused on switchgrass because it is an excellent feed source for livestock that has potential to help ag producers. The crop grows naturally throughout many areas of Oklahoma and the United States.

"Whether biofuels comes to Oklahoma or North Texas, the Noble Foundation will develop a better switchgrass," Rhines said. "Switchgrass will be measured by its productivity; one of those checkmarks could be from livestock production. That's our focus."

The foundation has worked with ag producers in its service area near Ardmore to plant small plots of switchgrass, and also has planted close to 1,000 acres in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

David Menzies, reporter for TriangleTechNews in Research Triangle, N.C., asked Rhines about partnerships that the state has created to advance biofuels. Rhines credited the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center for facilitating productive partnerships for the foundation.

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