March 8, 2010
Randy Hill lives amid the fossil fuels of America, a place where natural gas and crude oil made millionaires and the landscape is dotted with pump jacks.
But Hill, who lives outside Abilene in West Texas, is spending much of his time nowadays talking about an unusual power source: wood chips.
The owner of a firm that manufactures trailers that dry agricultural products, Hill has turned his moneymaking attention from peanuts to timber waste, believing the same process that revolutionized the peanut industry could do the same for biomass within the alternative energy industry.
Texas Tech University professor Michael Farmer, an expert in environmental and land management in the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, said Hill "has got a neat idea" to use mesquite to power plants and generate electricity.
"It's an interesting idea because mesquite is an agricultural waste product, in that it's a nuisance for landowners," Farmer said. "Even if you couldn't get it to pencil out because the cost to harvest it would be more than its energy value, it might put it over the top because the negative effects of mesquite on the land have a value too."