By Gregg Bragg for The Island Connection
Photos courtesy of CAREnergy
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and while turkey and pumpkin pie may top the list of holiday icons, the sweet potato makes a similar grade. Kiawah resident Marilyn Blizard is a longtime fan of the sweet potato.
“Since childhood, I learned sweet potatoes were tasty and nutritious as well as modestly priced [at] the supermarket, which meant a lot to our family. Mom was a widow raising 3 growing children,” waxes Blizzard. Her nostalgia was magnified and repurposed when she met Dr. Janice Ryan-Bohac.
Ryan-Bohac grew up in Kentucky’s horse country. Kentucky is known for its outstanding thoroughbred race horses. They are perceived to be a cut above the rest as a result of studied, quality breeding. Exposure to breeding science inspired Ryan-Bohac. Selective breeding worked with animals and led her to wonder if the proven art could be applied in other ways.
Gasoline shortages and price fluctuations spawned a growing interest in ethanol and plants which could produce it.
She earned a PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Texas A&M university, and has become an expert in the breeding and development of a new sweetpotato (now considered one word in the industry) with multiple insect and disease resistance qualities, and new high dry matter types for energy.
Corn was already being used to make fuel ethanol which we purchase as E-10 or E-85 (denoting the percentage of ethanol at the pump). Ryan-Bohac added to the tuber’s attributes by developing high yielding sweet potatoes that are more sustainable than corn, adaptable to the high temperatures and water stress found in Sunbelt states.
She formed a company called Carolina Advanced Renewable Energy, LLC. (CAREnergy). The South Carolina Department of Energy awarded her two grants to advance her efforts. She has since been awarded other state and federal grants, as well as contracts with companies to develop this feedstock. She set up an agricultural research farm for creating the non-GMO Energy Tuber leveraging her interest and capabilities with plant breeding. Her strange-looking but super-sized “Energy Tuber” is now patented.
The last eight years has witnessed Ryan-Bohac conduct farm trials in four states. She has worked with The National Corn Ethanol Research Center, University of Florida, Auburn University and other partners. She is ready to “commercialize” the Energy Tuber. Her next step is to design and build a demonstration plant to make fuel ethanol and valuable co-products.
“This will allow us to demonstrate the economics of using this advanced feedstock to produce clean energy, and help America achieve independence from foreign oil while providing jobs for [local] farmers,” adds Ryan- Bohac.
“Because I have long been an advocate for the best that Mother Nature can supply, I became eager to help CAREnergy in this cause,” says Blizard. “This meant I earned the honorary moniker of Project Coordinator, a voluntary position that had me assist at the agricultural lab as well as help in the preparation of a video fundraiser that will be launched later this month.”
“With the public airing of the CAREnergy video we hope to raise enough funds to establish the first commercial production facility in South Carolina dedicated to sweet potato biofuel. It need not be a large facility. The sweet potato Energy Tuber has been proven to provide four times the yield per acre compared to corn with less water and fertilizer, giving our SC Midland farmers a big boost towards economic stability and success,” Blizard adds.
Another attribute of the Energy Tuber is the production protein for human food and animal feed as co-products. Cleaving the production process in two halves allows processing food on one side, and ethanol on the other seems efficient, but also sounds like it requires an enormous facility. However, the two products would all be distilled from the same acre of sweet potatoes. Two products from one facility is a big bonus for investors, farmers and consumers.
New research at the biofuel laboratories at Texas A&M University has moved ethanol from simply being an additive to petroleum, to making it a “drop-in” fuel. Translated, this means cars, ships, and even planes will be able to use 100 percent plant-based fuel from the tuber, replacing fossil fuel completely.
“CAREnergy’s tuber going full scale means we as Sea Islanders could say goodbye to any further thoughts of offshore oil drilling, and the damage it could cause to our shoreline. Also, it could turn around the distress of our SC Midland farmers, and reenergize the area with a huge new enterprise. This model of green, renewable fuel from an advanced, sustainable crop can be replicated throughout the Sunbelt states,” effuses Blizard.
For more information, you can contact CAREnergy by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org