Biofuel firm to open Sampson refinery

Posted December 2, 2013

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— A biofuels company plans to open a refinery in Sampson County, creating 65 jobs over the next three years, officials said Monday.

Biochemtex will invest about $200 million in the Carolina Cellulosic Biofuels production operation, officials said. This plant will produce 20 million gallons per year of biofuel from locally grown energy crops, agricultural residues and woody biomass.

“Biochemtex is excited to bring our PROESA technology platform and our partners to eastern North Carolina," Guido Ghisolfi, the company's owner and chief executive, said in a statement. “We’ve already engaged with regional farms and farmers for the supply of energy crops, and we see great opportunity for growth and additional projects where regional infrastructure matches need.”

The company is signing up hog farms to grow the grasses on hog spray fields, turning that land into a new cash crop for farmers. Water used to suspend and carry hog waste is sprayed on nearly 100,000 acres of farm fields in Sampson, Duplin, and Wayne counties.

Farmers now grow coastal Bermuda grass to soak up the water-borne nutrients, and landowners must be persuaded to switch to growing energy grasses including miscanthus and switchgrass. The U.S. Department of Agriculture previously approved $4 million that will pay farmers in 11 southeastern North Carolina counties most of their costs of planting the energy grasses the ethanol plant needs.

Biochemtex was offered state and local government incentives worth $6.3 million over six years, a state Commerce Department spokeswoman said.

The USDA last year approved a loan guarantee worth $99 million for the project, backing a larger bank loan. The biofuel refinery was the ninth to get USDA support as the Obama administration spurs the development of plant-based ethanol from plants other than corn. Other ethanol plants around the country were expected to use farm-field leftovers such as wheat straw, low-value trees, municipal solid waste and algae.

The average salary at the refinery will be about $47,000, plus benefits. The Sampson County average annual wage is $30,822.


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