STILLWATER, Okla./ Some rural communities in Oklahoma may have an opportunity to boost their local economies through bioenergy production.

Phil Kenkel, agricultural economics professor and Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair at Oklahoma State University, researches the economic feasibility of such production.

“We have developed a feasibility template that helps project developers predict the costs and returns of various systems including oil seed crushing, biodiesel production, sweet sorghum ethanol and cellulosic ethanol,” he said. “One of my current projects is examining the feasibility of machinery cooperatives for harvesting and storing biomass for the bioenergy supply chain.”

The biomass machinery cooperative allows producers to achieve the economies of scale and efficiency of a large industrialized system.

“By organizing as a producer-owned operation, the economic benefits from the harvesting and storing functions are retained in the rural communities,” Kenkel said. “This research is important because the logistics of the supply chain are a crucial factor in second generation (cellulosic) biofuels.”

First generation biofuels such as corn-based ethanol took advantage of an existing supply chain and the ethanol plants could simply purchase the feedstock off the open market. For second-generation biofuels to be feasible, the supply chain for efficiently storing and harvesting feedstocks must be created.

“Research shows that when a bioenergy group is owned by producers or members of the local rural community, the economic impact on that rural community has more than doubled, relative to a similar project owned by out-of-state investors,” he said. “Bioenergy is an excellent opportunity for Oklahoma that can enhance income and crop diversity.”