Thinking About Energy Alternatives, Gas Prices Soar

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WABUSKA, Nev. (AP) - Gasoline prices topping $3 a gallon, dire
warnings about greenhouse effects and increased pollution bringing
about global warming are causing some folks to think more about
energy alternatives.

Claude Sapp, principal for Infinifuel Biodiesel, is one of those
people, and now he is working to turn the oldest geothermal plant
in Nevada into a biodiesel processing facility, where camelina oil
seed and even algae can be turned into diesel fuel.

Sapp said any plant that produces high oil yields can someday
power a vehicle.

"Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil instead of petroleum,"
he said. "We can get it from crambe, canola-type plants, oily
seeds, even algae."

He expects to have the first crop available in July, when a crop
of camelina oil seed will be harvested and sent to a plant in
Lovelock to be crushed.

Eventually, he hopes to have the plant in Wabuska ready to grow
its own algae, which he said can be harvested monthly.

"It (algae) starts out in a test tube and replicates itself," he said. "We can grow it in our test ponds. It is about a thousand times more productive to grow algae than growing oil seed in the dirt. We have plenty of land to expand. We can grow acres more than our test ponds."

Sapp said government researchers were initially skeptical about
algae growing in Nevada's desert climate because of the cool
nights, but with the geothermal, Infinifuel can maintain a constant

"We can grow more algae and harvest it more often than we can
dry crops," he said.

That doesn't mean dry crops don't have a future with Infinifuel.
Sapp said he has distributed oil seed to farmers from Eureka to
Tonopah and hopes to have enough to crush by summer.

"We'll have some at 4,000 feet and 6,000 feet, so we'll get a
good idea on what grows where," he said. "Farmers from across the
state have told me they can't keep planting hay and alfalfa."

The plant, which Sapp hopes puts out its first batch of
biodiesel in July, is almost entirely self-contained, said Sapp,
and fits in nicely with the ranching and farming environment around
Wabuska and Yerington.

It begins with algae or oil seed being nourished by the sun,
fertilizer and carbon dioxide, then crushed or pressed in a special
facility to become vegetable oil and biomass. The biomass is added
to alcohol, which is mixed with the vegetable oil and heated with
geothermal power in a biodiesel plant to become finished biodiesel.

Glycerine, a byproduct of geothermal processing, can be used in
dust suppression and the biomass, left over from the crushing and
pressing process, becomes fertilizer or fish or animal food.

The geothermal facility Sapp is using creates enough to power
the biodiesel plant and even sell some electricity.

"The water at the geothermal plant comes out of the ground at
about 220 degrees," Sapp said. "The plant makes electricity, with
any excess sold back to Sierra Pacific, so it is all
self-contained. We're trying not to use any petroleum products at

The plant used to produce ethanol in the 1980s, Sapp said. "They tried to do corn ethanol," he said. "But when gas got cheap again, they abandoned it."

He doesn't expect that to happen again.

"We got all the cheap stuff (crude oil)," he said. "All
what's left is the stuff that's hard to get to. There could be
hundreds of years of it, but it won't be easy or cheap."

Sapp gave a tour of his facility last month to researchers from
Desert Research Institute and engineers from Summit Engineering,
hoping to partner with each to improve his operation.

"DRI is the research powerhouse in the state and Summit is the
engineering and building powerhouse in the state," he said.

Del Fortner, energy and mineral manager for Summit, was
impressed with the concept.

"The whole thing about renewable energy is it is so compatible
with other things around it, like agriculture," he said, pointing
to cows grazing nearby. "They're putting a dairy across the street
and he can get fertilizer from local ranchers."

Kent Hoekman of DRI said the institute is interested in all
types of energy research.

"Making fuels from plants and the environmental impact of
making geothermal and biodiesel we find interesting," he said.

Sapp said he has expansion facilities planned in Hazen and
Valmy, near Winnemucca and expects to grow thousands of acres of
algae and oil seed.

"Valmy for sure," he said. "We have already secured land near
the power plant to grow algae and oil seed."

He also doesn't plan to limit himself to Nevada, having picked
up additional investors and land in North Carolina, as well.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)