Energy from Plants: Grass May Grow into Fuel of the Future
by John Ramsey (Fayetteville Observer) The grass grows as tall as two men and thick as a jungle.
This, farmers across the Cape Fear region keep hearing, is the future of ethanol. The giant miscanthus is one of the inedible crops grown for energy that might soon change the landscape of thousands of acres in southeastern North Carolina, including land used to treat hog waste.
Chemtex, an international company with offices in Wilmington, plans to build a $170 million refinery on 166acres in Sampson County to convert 20 million tons of grass into fuel each year.
Chemtex estimates the facility will help create more than 300 jobs in the region while helping the nation reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
And that could be just the beginning. Chemtex documents say North Carolina has enough available land to support as many as 15 refineries, which could mean 5,000 new jobs and a $2 billion boost to the state’s economy.
The Sampson County refinery, slated to open in 2014, will be the first of its kind in North America, a proving ground for expanding and developing related industries.
…”It’s hard to move away from something that you’ve done for decades into something that you don’t have any experience with, especially when the grain prices are at all-time highs. If this had come five years ago when prices were a quarter of what they are now, I think it would probably have a better sell to it,” said Colby Lambert, an N.C. Cooperative Extension agent in Cumberland County.
…Chemtex needs farmers to plant this spring so there will be material to feed the refinery as soon as it opens. And since one of the most expensive parts of the business is buying gas for the trucks that will transport the grass, Chemtex needs farmers within a 40-mile radius of its facility.
…The N.C. Biofuels Center has identified 100,000 acres of spray fields in Sampson, Duplin and Wayne counties that could potentially be used for biocrops. But state environmental workers are still studying how to plant the crops in spray fields in a way that complies with waste regulations.
Isaac Singletary, who has 200 acres of spray fields for his 8,000 hogs, said after a town hall meeting Thursday in Elizabethtown that he’s eager to replace his bermudagrass with switchgrass. The refinery will open a market on land that typically has little value other than for grazing cattle, he said.
“We ain’t got nothing to lose,” he said. READ MORE