The commitment to that partnership was evident in the roster of speakers, which included state Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, UF President Bernie Machen and Buckeye Technologies Inc. Chairman and CEO John Crowe.

Attendees included numerous agricultural leaders and high-ranking officials from state government, UF, Buckeye and other groups involved in the project.

Among them was Lonnie Ingram, a UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science, who developed a genetically modified bacterium that will be key to the biorefinery’s operations. The bacterium breaks down cellulose, a major component of plant cell walls, yielding simpler compounds used to produce fuel ethanol and bioplastics.

Calling Ingram a legend in the field of biofuels production, Putnam quipped that being a member of the audience was “like being at the dedication of a light bulb plant with Thomas Edison.”

When fully operational, the biorefinery will produce up to 400 gallons of fuel ethanol and 5,000 pounds of organic acids for bioplastics each day. Some of the researchers’ goals include testing a wide variety of feedstocks, such as crop residues and yard waste, and finding ways to save money on production costs.

At the ceremony’s conclusion, Ingram led a tour of the facility’s interior, which is dotted with huge tanks and crisscrossed by innumerable pipes and valves. The biorefinery is located at Buckeye’s plant in Perry, providing the infrastructure needed to deliver feedstock by train and truck.

In his remarks, Machen said the biorefinery exemplifies the way partnerships between academia, industry and government can produce results for all Florida residents.

“Working together at this demonstration plant, we can help shape a new reality of clean, renewable and domestically produced energy,” Machen said. “I can think of no better example of the mission of a research university at work.”