DeWitt became the first Community of Innovation after city leaders saw the opportunity in developing a biofuel resource.
A new winter crop and the technology to turn it into biofuel are making their way to Arkansas County.
The City of DeWitt has been selected as the site for the launch of the first Farm to Fuel project, the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation (AAEF) announced recently.
The event will be held Tuesday in DeWitt and is sponsored by AAEF, the educational affiliate of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, and alt.Consulting, a non-profit community economic development organization working in the Mississippi River Delta since 1998.
The launch will introduce area residents to Camelina — a new winter, energy crop — and the mini-biorefinery that will convert it into bioful for the Delta.
According to AAEF, the mini-biorefinery, operated by Johnny Davis, will utilize a technology developed by Springboard Diesel to produce small batches of biofuel with an annual capacity of 80,000 gallons per year. As demand increases, DeWitt will obtain a larger micro‐biorefinery designed by Dr. Srikant Gir and developed at the Marion Berry Renewable Energy Research Center at Mid‐South Community College. It will have a production capacity of 200,000 to 1 million gallons per year. Once DeWitt has outgrown the mini‐biorefinery, alt.Consulting will move it to develop the next Community of Innovation.
DeWitt became the first Community of Innovation after city leaders saw the opportunity in developing a biofuel resource. The fuel will utilize feedstocks from Camelina and waste vegetable oil. Once processed into ASTM standard biodiesel, it will be sold locally to power municipal trucks and equipment, school buses, farm vehicles and other private vehicles. Any excess fuel will be sold to fuel blenders in Arkansas and Memphis. And, because of no transportation costs and ready availability, the locally‐produced biodiesel will be price competitive in Delta communities with petroleum products while creating jobs and business opportunities locally.
"The City of Dewitt is excited to be the first community in the Delta to utilize this technology, and we look forward to the day when we have enough feedstock to enable the introduction of the micro‐biorefinery and we get to pass the mini‐biorefinery on to the next town," Dewitt Mayor Ralph Relyea told the AAEF. "Farm to Fuel is smart investment for our city and an innovative way to make the most of the natural resources that the Delta provides its people."
According to data developed at alt.Consulting, the projected economic impact of the project in DeWitt will generate over $2 million per year in new economic activity once the micro‐refinery is operating at capacity and producing 1 million gallons of fuel per year. This impact is expected to be realized within just two years of implementation. alt.Consulting seeks to replicate this model in as many Delta communities as are interested in participating.
As the Farm to Fuel project matures, rural communities across the region will have the capacity to generate, utilize and market millions of gallons of biodiesel produced from local energy crop feedstocks grown and harvested just miles away.
According to Sustainable Oils, Camelina is "an exciting new player on the biofuels scene." It is a member of the mustard family and a distant relative to canola. A leader in camelina research, production and market development, Sustainable Oils says the crop is excellent for low-moisture areas.
Researchers at Arkansas State University and Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas tested Camelina, then joined with alt.Consulting to recruit growers across the region. According to ASU and PCCUA researchers, Camelina fits into the planting and harvesting seasons of traditional Delta crops, so it doesn't compete with existing food production. Camelina is planted in October or November, and after a short growing season can be harvested in early May, allowing farmers to plant soybeans at the optimum time, AAEF said.
Current sponsors of the Farm to Fuel event include PCCUA, Farmers and Merchants Bank of DeWitt, Arkansas Farm Bureau and Southern Ag of DeWitt.
Tuesday's event begins with a 10 a.m. press conference and mini-biorefinery tour at 523 S. Jefferson St. in DeWitt. Participants will be introduced to the Farm to Fuel project and will be able to see the first biofuel technology by rotating through demonstrations featuring Camelina crushing with a mobile crush unit, a refining station with waste vegetable oil and Camelina oil being run through the refinery.
A Farm to Fuel value chain panel discussion will be held at 11 a.m. at PCCUA-DeWitt, located at 1210 Rice Belt Ave. Participants will learn more about the Farm to Fuel program and see a documentary video produced about the process in DeWitt.
Lunch will feature Delta Regional Authority Chairman Chris Masingill. It will be held at noon at PCCUA-DeWitt.
The day will wrap up at 1:30 p.m. with a Camelina growers' workshop with ASU faculty and information on improving rural livelihoods through the WealthWorks approach presented by Deb Markley with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and Barbara Wyckoff with Dynamica Consulting.
For more information or to RSVP for Tuesday's event, contact the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation at email@example.com or (501) 537-0190.