CCCC program fuels student interest

By Anna Austin | January 01, 2009
With one semester of its biofuels associate degree program under its belt, Central Carolina Community College feels it's well-prepared to take on the increased number of students expected to enroll in the program next year, according to CCCC Biofuels Coordinator Andrew McMahan.

So far, the focus has been on biodiesel on account of the eight biodiesel production facilities in North Carolina, and only one ethanol plant under construction. However, McMahan, who was hired by the college in 2006 to help develop the program, said the school hadn't ruled out expanding the program to include ethanol in the future. Bob Armantrout, former vice president of production for Colorado-based Biodiesel Industries Inc., serves as an adjunct professor of the classes. "Next semester, we are offering the next sequence to our students: Biofuels II, which will be commercial fuel production," McMahan said. David Thornton, plant designer of Piedmont Biofuels, will teach the course. The 1.4 MMgy biodiesel
production facility is located three miles from the college.

The associate degree is designed to prepare graduates to become plant technicians, plant managers, lab technicians, sales managers, process coordinators or business owners. "This is a fantastic opportunity for our students," McMahan said. Since the program launched, two CCCC biofuels program students have begun working at local biodiesel plants. One works at Piedmont Biofuels as a delivery driver, and the other works at another facility as a weekend operator.

The program, which was first offered in the fall of 2008, has been funded almost entirely by grants: $140,000 from the North Carolina Community College System BioNetwork Center, $195,000 from the Biofuels Center of North Carolina, and $50,000 each from the North Carolina General Assembly and the North Carolina State Energy Office. An 18,000-square-foot classroom and lab will house the expanding program when its construction is completed at the end of 2009. The first class of the five-semester biofuel associate program will graduate in the spring of 2010.
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