Local News

Pittsboro Plant To Produce, Sell Bio-Diesel

Posted September 15, 2006

— There are only four counties in North Carolina where alternative fuels are produced or sold. A new plant is adding Chatham County to that list.

At the Piedmont Biofuels plant in Pittsboro, huge tanks have been filled with vegetable oil, glycerin and methanol. Even larger tanks are waiting to process and store the finished product. Workers are hustling to tie it all together because in ten days the plant will open for business off Highway 64 in Pittsboro.

"It's biofuel, so it's made out of waste vegetable oil or any kind of fat," said Piedmont Biofuels spokeswoman Tami Schwerin. "It could be chicken fat and it can be used in any diesel vehicle."

The company began as a co-op, producing biofuel for a few families. When gas prices began climbing, it landed a grant from the State Energy Office, and they bought an old metal alloys plant. Now, they're ready to produce 1 million gallons of bio-diesel a year.

Workers will get the impurities out of the oil inside giant scrubbing systems. Then the fuel will go into a storage tank, and drivers will be able to pull up nearby for some bio-diesel.

"We plan to produce the product here, then distribute it in about a 100-mile radius," said Schwerin. "We're not trying to take over the world. We just want to supply our little area with bio-diesel."

Piedmont Biofuels is one of many efforts to put alternative fuels on the map. Two Crown stations in North Raleigh sell an E-10 ethanol blend that can be used in any gasoline engine. A Durham gas station and one in Southern Pines both sell E-85, which requires a special engine.

Many people are asking if all the projects can survive.

"The thing to keep your eye on is what's happening to the price of oil, the price of gas," said North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden. "The higher those go, the more likely these alternatives will make sense."

Piedmont Biofuels plans a grand opening celebration for Sept. 25.


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