Georgia legislators and policymakers met with biodiesel industry leaders from around the country in Plains recently to discuss ways to encourage the processing and distribution of biodiesel in Georgia. And a former U.S. president is all for it.

"This is a day for sharing," former President Jimmy Carter told about 60 people at the Georgia Biodiesel Summit. The event was sponsored by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' Center for Emerging Crops and Technologies.

"What we're looking for today," Carter said, "is what specifically does Georgia need to do — the legislature and different department heads —. to make sure research and development, agriculture and the environment all come together to alleviate any impediments that might not even be detectable now but that have been identified by industry."

Biodiesel is the name for a variety of oxygenated fuels made from oilseeds or animal fats. It burns cleaner and is environmentally safer than petroleum diesel. And existing diesel engines and equipment don't need to be altered to use biodiesel.

Tax incentives and special financing are just a few ways state leaders can help establish a biodiesel industry in Georgia, says John McKissick, CAED coordinator.

"But the key to benefiting Georgia (farmers) and communities will be to have any incentives based on a biofuel product produced in Georgia from Georgia products," McKissick says.

Financial times are tight for Georgia's General Assembly and state agencies. But Georgia can't afford not to go forward with biodiesel production, says Terry Coleman (D-Eastman), speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.

"We could put together a collaborative between Georgia's agricultural and environmental departments and add the university system's, experiment stations' and our other research capabilities," Coleman says. "We may not have a large pot of money. But by putting some effort into a collaborative, there may be an opportunity for us to begin this process."

Adding value to Georgia farm products, such as through biodiesel processing, is one of the best ways to improve Georgia's farm economy, says Gale Buchanan, CAES dean and director.

"What we have to do at the university is provide the education and the information-delivery and hope we can get industry interested," Buchanan says. "And this meeting today is where you get something off the ground. We hope it's the start of something important for Georgia."

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com