Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories developed from an interview with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who visited with the Starkville Daily News staff Thursday afternoon. The second installment will appear in Sunday’s paper.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant envisions a Mississippi where biofuel is produced, refined and consumed within the state, with Mississippi State University being a research leader in the fuel sub-sector.
Bryant hopes Mississippi will become the birthplace of biofuel standardization, akin to what transpired in Pennsylvania in the early 1900s with ground-extracted oil.
“Mississippi State’s going to play a huge part in that,” he said.
MSU received a $1 million grant in the legislative package which helped in landing KiOR, a Texas-based biofuels company which plans to build three plants in the next five years in Mississippi.
The sites include the areas around Columbus and Newton and an as-yet-determined location in the southwestern part of the state.
The company intends to use the state’s wood biomass supplies to create bio-crude.
Bryant met with MSU officials Thursday to discuss the university’s research efforts in this area. He provided additional details on the grant to MSU.
“This is an independent grant to Mississippi State for their further research and development of biofuels. It is not connected or dependent upon the success, failure or involvement of KiOR,” he said.
“... I think KiOR is going to see some of the process that has been developed at Mississippi State that would actually enhance what they are doing so we may have just a really beautiful ‘perfect storm’ partnership,” Bryant said.
He’s bullish on the state’s broader prospects for energy development as well as prospective growth in biofuels.
“I think our energy sector in Mississippi is the largest economic development opportunity that we have,” he said, citing not only KiOR but also the planned clean coal gasification plant in Kemper County, expansion of Chevron’s Gulf Coast refinery and work to reclaim oil in old rigs.
“Energy is going to be something that’s going to be not only a commodity we use to bring in other industry but a commodity that we’ll be able to sell to other states,” Bryant said.
Bryant sees a circle for the Mississippi biofuel market, starting with trees cut in the state then processed at KiOR, then on to an in-state refinery and finally into the “tanks of Mississippi consumers and businesses,” he said.
“I think when that happens, we will somewhat be in control of our fate. Think of a market that we will have within the boundaries of the state of Mississippi to produce the crude, refine the crude and provide it to our consumers,” he said. “
That’s what I would like to see.”
Bryant says what he enjoys in economic development as lieutenant governor is to do the research and be able to present legislation to the Senate “I can do so with some certainty.”
He also says getting university-based research and development on the market can make an impact.
“If we could harvest the research and development that our universities are doing and get them into the marketplace — and we’ve had some success doing that — I think it changes everything for a research university like Mississippi State,” Bryant said.