North Carolina biodiesel-related projects await funding

By | February 01, 2005
North Carolina appears to be on the threshold of producing its first drops of biodiesel. Production facilities are proposed in Rocky Mount and Autryville while a small-scale project appears ready to produce biodiesel in an innovative way. A proposed vehicle research center may also someday test vehicles using the fuel.

A proposed project in Pittsboro, N.C., would turn wastewater into biodiesel via an innovative wastewater treatment system. Pittsboro has applied for a $3.1 million grant to partially pay to pipe 65,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day two miles from the town's treatment plant to the Central Carolina Community College campus. From there, the water will be filtered and used to irrigate plants intended to create biodiesel.

Lisa Schell, public information officer for the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, said the grant would go through a preliminary review April 18-19. The final review will come in the early summer. Schell said reusing waste effluent from a plant and diverting it for other uses is fairly common in grant applications. However, this is the first time the effluent will be used to irrigate fields dedicated to biofuels.

Grant funding is approved by the state General Assembly. Thus far, the Trust Fund has awarded $480 million to 630 grant requests since 1996. The community college irrigation plant would cost an estimated $7.2 million. If approved, the project could be completed by 2008, according to the application. Pittsboro Town Manager David Hughes said the wastewater treatment plant upgrade would need to be completed before such a project would begin.

Another North Carolina project may help the state become a leader in automotive research. Plans appear to be moving forward on the Advanced Vehicle Research Center of North Carolina (AVRNC). The proposed center will be a public/private enterprise that would develop a 630-acre site specifically for research and development testing of new automotive and transportation technologies.
AVRNC Managing Director Richard Dell said a funding package would be considered before the state legislature in late January. The project would be developed in two stages. The first includes a two and a half mile track, garages, dynamometers and emissions testing equipment, and biodiesel and ethanol refueling facilities. The second stage would be developed following input from clients. Dell said he's already received interest from several potential clients. "We need to make sure people know this is not a 'field of dreams' project," he said. "It's a 'What is it you want and we'll build it' type project."

The center's mission is to provide a modern automotive testing facility for use in the design, development, testing and certification of advanced vehicle technologies, subsystems and components. The center was originally designed for small businesses, but several large automakers have expressed interest as well because it is less expensive to outsource to such testing locations.
Dell said if the funding proposal is approved early in the legislative session, groundbreaking could occur in the first quarter of 2005. He said an aggressive timeline would be to have a functional facility by the fall.
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