October 06, 2007


Ethanol fuels business prospects

C’ville man growing Jerusalem artichokes to make alternative fuel


Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Charles Garber looks over a field of Jerusalem artichoke at his Hatfield Hill Road farm. He intends to turn the stalks into ethanol fuel. Garber planted about 1,000 of the plants for the first time this year and hopes to begin ethanol production next summer. He can produce 600 gallons of ethanol per acre of land.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Charles Garber found skepticism at a Cortland farming conference in February as he brought up his idea to produce ethanol from Jerusalem artichokes.
A Cornell professor doubted the idea’s financial viability.
But Garber, who declined to provide his age, has pursued his idea, growing 1,000 Jerusalem artichoke plants this summer on half an acre of his 20 acres at 172 Hatfield Road in Cortlandville.
As the growing season winds down, the plants have taken root and grown 4 to 8 feet high. This was the first season Garber has grown the plant.
Garber said he has been interested in the topic of alternative energy sources for years, and he has become all the more interested with oil prices at more than $80 per barrel and expected to rise.
From his research in recent years, which includes speaking with two professors at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Garber has calculated that for every one acre of land covered with Jerusalem artichokes he can produce 600 gallons of ethanol. That contrasts with the 270 gallons per acre rate for corn, he said.
Garber said he can make the ethanol by squeezing the stalks with a special juicer he has ordered and expects to receive by spring.
The juice is fermented by adding yeast and sulfuric acid in metal tanks and removing water from the alcohol solution with a still.
Garber, a retired Army master sergeant, said he has spent about $7,000 so far on equipment, including $4,000 on the still.
He anticipates he could make 624 gallons of ethanol a day and wants to begin making it next summer.
He intends to sell the ethanol at $1.99 a gallon.
“It’s my way of making sure the average person is better off and making myself feel better,” said Garber, who has degrees in history and electrical engineering and experience growing peach trees and hay.
In choosing Jerusalem artichokes, Garber said he picked an unusual crop to help diversify what’s grown in the region. The plant is a species of sunflower native to eastern North America and is frequently grown for its tuber, or underground stem.
He ended up going with Jerusalem artichokes because of the number of tubers they produce.
Each season one tuber typically produces between 50 and 75 additional tubers, he said. A new Jerusalem artichoke requires a half tuber to grow, he said.
Next summer he will harvest the approximately 100,000 tubers from the ground and plant them on his 20 acres of land. He expects to hire workers to help him plant and harvest the crop next year.
Garber said he could plant as much as 4,840 plants per acre.
His first year went well, he said
“From all my research I expected it,” Garber said of the plant’s solid growth. “But what I had to do was grow them, plant them and see what they did. Did they meet my expectations — yes.”
Garber said his project is still in its experimental stage and acknowledges he faces hurdles, particularly in how he will bring his product to the market place.
Few cars now run on ethanol and few gas stations sell it. Garber said he has heard of one gas station in the region that has a tank for ethanol that was put in to store the fuel once it becomes more widely available.
Only three retail gas stations in New York state sell ethanol, according to, a Web site that gives the number of retail gas stations by state that sell E85 ethanol, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline,
The gas stations are located in Albany, Hannacroix in Greene County and West Babylon in Suffolk County.
Still, Garber thinks the fuel is crucial to offset dependence on foreign oil and believes strongly in its potential.
The country needs to move away from fossil fuels such as oil and turn to renewable resources such as ethanol, he said.
Garber is getting help from James Nakas, a professor at SUNY-ESF. Nakas is optimistic about Garber’s project.
Nakas said next summer he would like to try running some of Garber’s artichoke juice through special fermenters the college has to see if he can extract higher concentrations of sugar from the juice to produce a better quality of ethanol.
Nakas said so far Garber is the only individual that has contacted the college, which is focused on experimenting with wood chips to make ethanol, to get help with an alternative energy project.
“He seems to be quite knowledgeable about growing them, and what had to be done, and where he could get a press to extract the sugar,” he said. “He seemed well informed.”
Janice Degni, a dairy and field crops specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, said she does not know anyone locally besides Garber who is growing crops other than corn and soybeans for potential ethanol production.
She said it is good that he is taking a risk, though it must be emphasized that growing Jerusalem artichokes for ethanol use is indeed a risk.
“It’s totally unproven that it’s going to be economically profitable,” she said.


Hazelnuts seen as source of biodiesel

Staff Reporter

TRUXTON — As biodiesel and ethanol gain momentum as an energy source others are experimenting with growing crops for fuel.
For the last 10 years, Jeff Zarnowski of Truxton has been growing more than 1,000 hazelnut trees, which comprise more than a dozen strains, on his property at 5296 Town Line Road.
He is trying to determine which strain of hazelnut tree grows best in the region, and hopes to eventually use the nuts to produce biodiesel.
Hazelnut trees used to grow in the region, he said, but about 100 years ago a blight killed them off.
He wants to bring them back to diversify the area’s crop production as well as an energy source. Within the next four to six years he expects to micropropagate the best strain of hazelnut trees to fill 40 acres of his 83 acres of land with the trees.
Micropropagation is the practice of rapidly multiplying or regenerating plant material to produce a large number of new genetically identical plants, using modern laboratory methods.
Zarnowski, whose main job is chief technical officer for Panavision in Homer, is building a greenhouse on his property to conduct the micropropagation work.
He plans to grow the trees for several potential revenue sources: to sell the trees to others, to sell the best hazelnuts for human consumption, to sell oil from the hazelnuts for cooking and to sell the hazelnuts to biodiesel plants for biodiesel conversion.
Zarnowski said he plans to sell the hazelnuts to the biodiesel plant that is planned for Route 11 in Polkville.
“I will just be another source for the biodiesel plant,” he said.
He said he also plans to make the biodiesel for his personal use. It wouldn’t be too difficult, he said, because all that must be added to the oil is some alcohol and some lye; unlike ethanol production, biodiesel production does not require fermentation.
For $1,000 to $3,000 a person can purchase equipment to make his or her own biodiesel, he said.
Other benefits of hazelnuts as an alternative crop for energy production are that trees do not have to be replanted every year, as corn and soybeans do; they require less fertilizer than other crops; and they outproduce other oilseed crops.
According to data compiled from several scientific sources about oilseed production, hazelnuts produce between 1.28 metric tons and 2.08 metric tons of oil per hectare per year, whereas soy only produces 0.37 metric tons of oil per hectare per year, canola only produces 0.6 metric tons of oil per hectare per year and sunflowers only produce 0.53 metric tons of oil per hectare per year.
Zarnowski said he is pretty optimistic his investment of $8,000 for hazelnut trees and $25,000 for a greenhouse so far will pay off.



County clerk opposes state license order with Spitzer

Larkin disagrees with Sptizer plan to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants

Staff Reporter

Cortland County Clerk Elizabeth Larkin on Thursday added her voice to the opposition against Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s order that would allow illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses.
Larkin next month will be seeking the backing of the full county Legislature against Spitzer’s order.
Larkin was one of 30 county clerks at a meeting of the New York State Association of County Clerks to vote in favor of a resolution objecting to Spitzer’s order, which, beginning at the end of the year, would permit people to receive a state driver’s license without a social security number.
Spitzer, in a press release responding to the Association’s vote, claimed that allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses would yield fewer unlicensed drivers and more insured drivers, and that it would allow state law enforcement officials a more complete database of names, photographs and addresses.
Larkin, however, said the measure would effectively require her to break state and federal law and that, even if forced to go through with Spitzer’s plan, she would take measures to block it.
“If the law is changed, I will put signs in the DMV saying that any illegal aliens attempting to get a driver’s license will promptly be reported to (the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department),” Larkin said.
Federal law prohibits government officials from providing any documentation that would assist an illegal alien at staying in the United States, Larkin said, while state law requires that the clerk at the DMV “shall require the applicant to provide his or her social security number.”
“If it says ‘may,’ there might be a way around it, but if it says ‘shall,’ it’s a mandate,” Larkin said.
Larkin also said the measure could adversely affect homeland security and that it would devalue the New York state drivers’ license.
“The New York state driver’s license really provides quite a few privileges, you can use it to rent a car or a hotel room, or board a plane,” she said. “I’m very worried that this will make it so that’s not possible anymore.”
Voting is another issue, she said, as the board of elections often relies on the motor vehicle office for voter information.
Larkin has prepared a resolution backing the County Clerks Association’s objections, and will present it to the full Legislature this month.
A Spitzer representative could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.



Judge will not order cat clinic inspection

Staff Reporter

The city will not have to inspect the former spay and neuter clinic on Wheeler Avenue at least as long as no applicant comes forward other than the organization that was barred from operating there for a year.
State Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey ruled Friday on a petition by Purr Fect World Inc. seeking to force the city to inspect the property for use as a spay and neuter clinic.
The building at 7 Wheeler Ave. had been posted as unsafe and was closed after city officials raided the property, which consists of a large home and a two-story clinic building, in September 2006 and seized nearly 300 cats.
That petition had been put on hold until Friday, pending the corporation’s sentencing in connection with a criminal trial in City Court that took place on Sept. 20.
The sentence prevents Purr Fect World from operating or maintaining any business in the city for the care of cats until Sept. 20, 2008, without first receiving approval from the city of Cortland. The city can inspect the property to ensure compliance at any time upon reasonable notice.
The attorney for Purr Fect World, Jim Stevens Jr. of the Syracuse-based Sugarman Law Firm, argued Friday that only the corporation was barred from operating any business in the building. The property itself — which is in a residential district — had a pre-existing nonconforming use allowance that would expire without an inspection, and the property still has a right to an inspection.
“They (Purr Fect World) could still own the property, and the nonconforming use can be practiced by someone else,” Stevens contended before Rumsey.
The judge pointed out that it is unusual for a corporation that is prohibited from operating in a certain location to apply for this type of relief without any third party in sight.
As related by city attorney Larry Knickerbocker, not only has the Code Department been busy attending to other matters, the city has been unable to locate a veterinarian willing to become embroiled in such a litigious matter that has already stretched on beyond a year.
Stevens also argued that the city has the responsibility to inspect since it forced the closure of the clinic, but Rumsey agreed with Knickerbocker: the corporation’s “extremely inappropriate use of the property” was voluntary and forced the city’s hand.




Dryden selects interim schools chief

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — James E. Lee, 63, who served as superintendent of the Binghamton City School District from 1990 until his retirement in 2002, was hired Thursday night as interim superintendent of the Dryden school district.
His appointment begins Oct. 15 and is expected to continue through June 30, 2008.
“We’re very happy with this choice,” said Board of Education President Andy Young.
Lee temporarily replaces Mark Crawford, who has served as superintendent in Dryden since July 2004. Crawford, who will assist in the transition, is leaving Dryden to assume the superintendent position in Hamburg, which is Crawford’s hometown.
Lee lives in Brackney, Pa. He said he would commute from there most of the time but would stay in the Dryden area during inclement weather and after late meetings.
Before becoming superintendent, Lee served four years as associate superintendent for instruction, three years as high school principal, and 16 years as a high school science teacher, all in the Binghamton City School District. While at Binghamton, Lee said he took several leaves, including one to become deputy county executive in 1980.
Following his retirement, he served as director of the Roberson Museum and Science Center until 2005.
Lee said this would be his first stint as interim superintendent.
While Lee was superintendent at Binghamton Schools, a district with 6,350 students and 1,700 employees, the district received numerous accolades for innovations and accomplishments. The district created the Rod Serling School of Fine Arts and a Pre-engineering Academy, certified by the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Four district schools were honored as state Title I Distinguished Mastery Schools and one as a National Distinguished Title I School. Two schools received National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence honors. Lee’s district was also recognized with the prestigious Gold Award with Distinction in Leadership and Human Resources by the Empire State Advantage, Excellence at Work Program.
The Dryden Board of Education appointed Lee to the interim superintendent position at a special meeting Thursday evening and will pay him $520 a day, Young said.