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Biofuel development promises new, high tech jobs

North Carolina is moving toward significantly reducing its dependence on imported liquid fuels and in doing that, it is developing an entirely new source of jobs for the state’s residents, particularly those in its more rural areas like the Roanoke-Chowan.

Interest in “biofuels,” renewable, cleaner burning power sources for the vehicles upon which we all are so dependent, has developed and grown as a result of air pollution concerns, rising or uncertain gas prices and uncertainties in the parts of the world where so much of our petroleum-based fuel originates.

Ethanol is a gasoline supplement produced from starchy “biomass” through an enzyme process. Biodiesel is a diesel supplement produced from plant oils through a chemical process. Both these fuels are made from organic matter that presents a promising new market for North Carolina growers.

Corn was the initial crop of choice for ethanol refiners throughout the Midwest and West. But North Carolina researchers are seeking even more efficient sources of “biomass” or “feedstock” for ethanol refining here.

Contenders include pine, switchgrass, canola and even algae and kudzu. And now “industrial sweet potatoes” – not suitable for human consumption, but a very promising source of starch for the ethanol process – are gaining favor with the researchers.

North Carolina’s first full-scale ethanol manufacturing plant will be online in early 2009. Raleigh-based Clean Burn Fuels is developing the $100 million facility on 500 acres three miles southeast of Raeford, about 20 miles west of Fayetteville.

– The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald