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Florida, biofuels are 'natural' chums

An influential advocate touts the short- and long-term potential.

Published March 29, 2007

[Biotechnology Industry Organization]
Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, one of the top financial backers of the biofuels industry, was in Orlando for a conference recently.

Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist credited with helping shape White House policy on alternative fuels, was in Orlando recently to speak at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing. He sat down with the Times to talk about promising energy alternatives, tax breaks and the bright future of biofuels in Florida.

President Bush says we are "addicted to foreign oil," and Al Gore told Congress recently that the environment faces "a planetary emergency." So what are our energy options?

We need alternative energy sources for lots of reasons. Whether you care about energy security or whether you care about the environment, or whether you care about rural development - and I care about all of them - we need alternatives to oil.

The only large-scale source in the short term, the next 20 years, appears to be biofuels. It's a technology we know, it has a relatively easy adoption compared to all the other options for the infrastructure, and the planets seem to be reasonably politically well aligned, so all that makes for a pragmatic choice for making it happen.

What kind of future do you think biofuels have in Florida?

Florida has a strong agriculture industry and biomass grows well in Florida. That makes it a natural.

Sugar cane can be used for sugar and the bagasse leftover cane leaves can be used for ethanol. Switchgrass and miscanthus are often cited. Then there's forest waste. I think that's where we will start.

Eventually we will go to other forms of waste. For instance, municipal waste can be used to make biofuels.

The Bush administration believes in letting the markets drive this. Do you think the government needs to intervene more?

Transitions don't happen without policy, and policy has traditionally been biased toward encouraging oil. Why do we spend $50-billion just to defend more sea lanes?

The oil industry has all kinds of tax breaks, far greater tax breaks than ethanol.

We need policy to create this new market. ... But I'm not a big fan of long-term subsidies. I don't think we'll need those.

Some people have compared what is happening today with the dotcom bust.

Well, first people should go back and look back at the dotcom bust. A Google was created after the bust. A YouTube was created after the bust.

Since 2001, when the bust happened, Internet traffic and usage has steadily been going up. So we ought to differentiate stock prices from what is actually happening on the ground in the industry.

Stock prices for ethanol prices may go up and down. But I suspect ethanol as a fundamental resource will keep growing as an industry.

What might the future look like?

In 25 years, we could easily have replaced the bulk of our petroleum, not all of it, but more than 50 percent of it worldwide.

And we could be generating 30 to 40 percent of our electricity from solar thermal (using the sun's rays to super-heat water, creating steam to drive turbines), 20 percent from geothermal (naturally occurring underground heat), and the rest from other renewable sources. Then there's the legacy plants, coal and nuclear.

David Adams may be reached at


[Last modified March 28, 2007, 20:55:56]

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