Growing biofuels in the heartland
Growing biofuels in the heartland
Location: Colby, Kan.

Kansas is hardly a hotbed of eco-activism. But it does have a contingent of denizens who aren't so much anti-oil as they are pro-energy-independence.

Take Kenneth Frahm, who had served as chair of the Kansas Energy Council under former governor Kathleen Sebelius and currently runs the Kansas division of 25x'25, a group that aims to have 25% of America's energy come from renewable resources by 2025.

Kansas can add to the renewable energy mix, Frahm believes, by using its ample farmland to grow crops that can be converted into biofuels. With the right government incentives, he says, it could become financially viable for farmers to grow not just corn but switchgrass or poplar, which are used to make a kind of renewable fuel called cellulosic ethanol.

New technology will be key to the success of the biofuel industry in Kansas, says Frahm, who is on the board of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, a state agency that invests in promising businesses using money from the state lottery.

EdenTechnologies, one of Frahm's favorite KTEC investments, developed the technology to make ethanol out of the inedible parts of corn. "It's just a wonderful example of what we're trying to achieve," he says, turning waste products from one of the state's major crops into something useful.

Kansas' spaciousness also makes the state a good fit for wind power, Frahm says, as many farmers have hundreds of acres worth of open land. That leaves plenty of room to erect windmills without stirring up the "not in my backyard" issues that come up in more cramped states.

"You expect the people of Kansas to want government out of our business," says Frahm, whose wife served as a Republican U.S. senator in 1996, and they do. But if biofuels ever take off in the Midwest, Frahm believes Kansas' green movement will have plenty of open space to grow.

Last updated July 28 2011: 3:49 PM ET
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