A biofuel refinery, the first of its kind in the United States, will produce ethanol from wild grasses and other energy crops near Clinton, about 65 miles southeast of Raleigh.
The planned refinery, which is scheduled to begin producing biofuel in 2016, culminates an intensive effort to make ethanol from plants other than corn. The Italian developer, Biochemtex, operates a similar biorefinery in Italy and is planning to license other such facilities in the United States and around the world.
The office of N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday the facility will create 65 jobs that pay, on average, about $47,000 a year. The project is eligible to receive $300,000 in One North Carolina grant subsidies and local matching grants if it meets investment and job-creation milestones. Biochemtex will operate in Clinton as Carolina Cellulosic Biofuels.
The jobs will involve growing, harvesting and transporting crops, as well as managing, operating and maintaining the facility, said Carolina Cellulosic Biofuels director Paolo Carollo.
It will be the first of its kind in U.S., but it will not be the the first in the world, Carollo said by email. To be more specific, in the U.S. it will be the first cellulosic ethanol facility of this size utilizing energy crops as a main feedstock.
Biochemtex picked Sampson County for the facility because of its proximity to farmers with low-yield land who can produce 300,000 tons a year of sorghum, switchgrass, wood chips, and Arundo donax, a giant reed. The crops are to be converted into 20 million gallons of ethanol annually.
The company said its not displacing food crops or grains grown for animal feed.
Were not replacing food with fuel, Carollo said.
The company plans to contract with 30 to 40 farmers to grow the crops, but it has not yet signed contracts to grow Arundo donax, which is expected to account for about 20 percent of the Clinton plants fuel source.
Arundo is listed as invasive by some states and was the focus of an effort by environmentalists and several science professors to prevent Biochemtex from using the plant here.
The bamboo-like wild grass is also considered an energy wonder crop that yields three times as much ethanol per acre as corn.
Biochemtex plans to grow Arundo on marginal soils in Johnston, Bladen, Duplin and Sampson counties, within 50 miles of the biorefinery.