Energizing Kentucky Manufacturing: Algae for Growth

Manufacturing accounts for about $28 billion in Kentucky’s economy, making it a close second place after government as an economic driver, with health care ranking third. And these days perhaps more than ever, the cost of energy is a critical factor in sustaining successful manufacturing businesses.

That’s why the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has expanded its third Energy Conference from one day to two full days, to be held on May 14 and 15. It is touted on the KAM website as “Kentucky’s only energy conference designed by manufacturers, for manufacturers.”

“We want to get into more depth with these programs,” said Greg Higdon, CEO of KAM. “Energy will be an ongoing thing that manufacturing will have to look at. We have to pay attention to it to remain competitive nationally and internationally. Kentucky is huge in the automotive industry.”

In a time of rising energy costs and deepening concerns regarding climate change, the conference brings together energy producers, suppliers and consumers for presentations, workshops and discussions on best practices and technologies to bring increased energy efficiency in the large-scale operations of manufacturing. Underlying the conference is the idea of sustainability — sustaining the economic viability and profitability of manufacturing enterprises as well as reducing damaging impacts on the environment, the bedrock of our sustenance. Another focus of the conference will be renewable fuels, said Molly Sutherland of Sutherland and Associates, who is coordinating the conference.

The conference’s focus on energy resonates with the America’s Energy Future (AEF) study, begun in 2007 and recently completed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A number of reports have emerged from the massive AEF project that involved a host of scientists from numerous disciplines, industries and organizations. The main report, over 700 pages, titled America’s Energy Future: Technology and Transformation, is available for free download from the National Academies Press website. That report finds “a steadily growing consensus that our nation must fundamentally transform the ways in which it produces, distributes, and consumes useful energy.”

The search is on to find renewable fuels to counter the dependence on foreign oil.  KAM has also recognized the concern.

“Logistics and fuel costs are always issues,” said Higdon, speaking about the transportation challenges for manufacturing concerns. “You will always have the four components of rail, water, air and trucking.”

One of the alternative and renewable fuels discussed in the report is biodiesel produced from algae. Business Lexington spoke with Bruce Pratt, director of the Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies (CRAFT) at Eastern Kentucky University, to find out how CRAFT’s research and development with algae-derived biofuel has progressed since its founding four years ago.

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