Biofuels provide power to Tennessee's technology drive for 2007. Data researched by Tennessee's Department of Economic and Community Development shows that Tennessee is ripe for biofuel and ethanol growth because of its available crops of switchgrass and soybeans, necessary for production, as well as its location within a one-day's drive of 75 percent of the nation's population.
Legislators are putting their money where the crops are. In January, Governor Phil Bredesen included $61 million in his proposed 2007-2008 budget for a comprehensive alternative fuels strategy regarding the production of biomass ethanol and related research. Approximately $40 million is targeted for the building of a pilot biomass ethanol plant with a 5 million gallon per year capacity, and $11.6 million funds an existing related project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Research at ORNL and the University of Tennessee (UT) Institute for Agriculture translates to significant new markets for farmers since they have developed ethanol from switchgrass, a crop that can be grown anywhere in Tennessee.
ORNL represents a major technology draw to the state. As the U.S. Department of Energy's largest science and energy laboratory, ORNL boasts a budget totaling more than $1 billion and an employment roster of 4,100 people, as well as the reputation of being host to the nation's largest unclassified scientific computing facility. ORNL received the good news in June that it was chosen to manage one of three bioenergy research centers funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The $125 million Bioenergy Science Center, to be located at the Joint Institute for Biological Sciences (JIBS) at ORNL, is expected to attract experts in agricultural science, biology, engineering, and commercialization to develop quicker and more cost-effective processes for converting plants into fuels.
Also in June, the governor announced that $130,990 of Green Island Corridor Grants have been awarded to 10 retail fuel stations. The funds will be used to either install or convert fuel storage tanks and dispensers to biodiesel (B20) and ethanol (E85) fuel. Stations are located in Lebanon, Smyrna, Franklin, Hermitage, Hendersonville, Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Somerville. The goal of this program is to establish refueling sites no more than 100 miles apart along interstate highways and major highway corridors. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has already established 27 priority counties, and is working to install at least one B20 and one E85 pump in each county.