Using wasted public land to create ecologically conscious fuel crops

USU, Salt Lake County and LDS Church team up to produce biodiesel

On a patch of previously barren land southwest of the Salt Lake City International Airport, an interesting accumulation of public and private entities have joined forces to create a sustainable biodiesel.

Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City Public Utilities, the South Davis Sewer District, Utah State University, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and FreeWays to Fuel have all chipped in on the project.

The project is currently using 20 of about 200 available acres and plans to expand in future harvests. The land has been set aside for a new wastewater treatment plant, but construction on the plant will not begin for at least 15 years.

Using public land that is unsuitable for growing food to grow crops that can be used to create fuel is a goal of FreeWays to Fuel, a company created by Utah State University doctoral student Dallas Hanks.

According to the company’s website, “The… project explores a method of growing oil seed crops in nontraditional agronomic areas along roadways, airports, military, railroad areas, unused construction areas, government and subsidy lands for biofuel production.”

FreeWays to Fuel’s main focus is using the estimated 10 million acres of highway-side land to grow fuel crops. Most of this land is currently costing the government money to mow and maintain, but generating nothing.

In 2009, the company created its first economically viable harvest – meaning that growing and harvesting crops cost them as much as it would cost the government to mow the land.

The plot of land in Salt Lake is growing safflower, a crop that can create about 1,000 pounds, or 50 gallons, of biofuel per acre. The fuel can be processed in an on-site trailer provided by USU. These on-site capabilities have attracted both the U.S. Army and rural farmers.

The military is interested in the possibility of growing fuel next to bases in and outside of the U.S., negating the need for fuel brought in by convoys. The military inspected the fields this August. Comparably, farmers could use on-site fuel creation to decrease their dependence on inconsistent foreign oil supplies.

The site will also provide an opportunity to recycle biosolids that would otherwise be thrown away. These biosolids, generated by the wastewater treatment process, will be used to fertilize the safflower. The safflower’s seeds are used to create oil, and the leftover organic material can be used for livestock feed.

The Mormon church donated equipment and volunteer workers to the enterprise.

For more information, go to www.FreeWaysToFuel.org

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