We have reported in the past on scientific research that made it more feasible to use bamboo for the production of liquid biofuels. That possibility is now being aggressively pursued in Mississippi, where the Mississippi Development Authority is providing funding to the state’s universities for research in support of the KiOR, Inc. facilities there.
At Alcorn State University in Natchez, MS, the Agriculture department has recently entered into biofuels research and will be focusing on methods for growth and delivery of the crops involved in production. Because some faculty already has experience working with bamboo, the university is giving some attention to that as a potential local source for the KiOR output.
KiOR was founded in 2007 and announced plans in 2010 to open five facilities to the state of Mississippi, with a 500 million dollar investment. A demonstration plant is set to open in Columbus, MS very soon, and a full scale one is planned for 2014, which is projected to be able to produce up to 33 million barrels per year of KiOR’s trademark alternative crude oil, Re-Crude.
The biofuels created by KiOR as well as other entrants to the emerging market may be capable of substantially replacing our current needs for imported, environmentally damaging crude oil. It will have the potential to create an entirely domestic industry that aids the US with both economic growth and energy security. In Mississippi, the KiOR project is expected to directly and indirectly create over a thousand jobs. The possibility exists for even more employment in adjacent industries, especially depending on the resources that the company elects to utilize in order to produce its biofuels.
The problem with many biofuels that have been popularized in the past is that they utilize crops that would otherwise have been used for food production, thus driving up grocery prices and trading away food security in favor of energy security. KiOR does not compete with food production, instead using wood scrap and other inedible organic materials. This is why bamboo is an ideal option for the company’s operations in Mississippi. Although its shoots can be used for food, the rest of bamboo’s biomass is purely raw material for construction and manufacture. Its rapid growth makes it highly renewable and it can be grown specifically to fill the needs of the biofuel industry, or else simultaneously marketed for other purposes, from flooring to furniture to bamboo clothing.
Bamboo can be easily grown in the American south and already is readily available from a variety of growers. Founded in Jackson, MS in the same year that KiOR was created, Southern Bamboo sources the crop from various properties throughout the area and brings it together to sell for timber, decorative uses, and more. Clearly, at least the beginnings of a supply chain are already in place in Mississippi and the rest of the South, should emerging biofuel producers see fit to utilize bamboo for that purpose.
Alcorn University has sent samples of one prominent strain of bamboo to KiOR to be tested for its suitability to their production process. If the outcome is positive, the school will provide calculations of the economic outlook for farming the crop and supplying it to the company. Considering the ease and speed of growth and harvesting, it seems quite likely that the outlook will be extremely positive. And as it is with the emerging biofuel industry, so it is with any of the multitude of industries in which bamboo might be expected to become more common.