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Ethanol plant to rise on Raeford corn field

Posted December 4, 2007
Updated April 30, 2008

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— Construction is about to begin on the first ethanol plant in the Southeast, and it's in Raeford in Hoke County.

Currently, 130 ethanol refineries operate in the U.S., with another 76 under construction. Several companies planning to build in North Carolina have dropped their plans, raising questions about the viability of the industry here.

Clean Burn Fuels, however, is staking its claim to make the alternative fuel in North Carolina.

Today, the company’s site is 500 acres of farmland. Clean Burn Fuels, however, is planning a refinery that will turn corn into 75 million gallons of ethanol per year.

"It's about three-quarters of North Carolina's total ethanol demand,” company project manager Greg Carlisle said. Nationally, 21 states have ethanol-production facilities.

The refinery will bring 300 construction jobs to Hoke County and 100 full-time positions. County officials hope other industries may follow.

"We have a bio-diesel plant looking here also that we're probably going to locate on-site," County Manager Mike Wood said.

The ethanol plant may boost the local economy, but three other companies proposing similar plants backed out of North Carolina plans. E-85 Inc. dropped plans for a Cumberland County plant in May. Ethanol sites in Aurora and Jamesville also fell by the wayside.

One reason may be cost.

"It's very difficult to raise the necessary equity," Carlisle said.

Clean burn is a $100 million investment that may not have happened without 10 years of county tax abatements, and a $35 million guaranteed loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Capitol Broadcasting, the parent company of WRAL and WRAL.com, also is an investor in Clean Burn Fuels.

There's the issue of corn supply for making ethanol. The state already imports 400 million bushel of corn every year to feed livestock.

"We know it's putting pressure on our livestock producers," said Keith Walters of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. "The price at market for corn didn't keep up with the price for fertilizer and equipment needed to produce corn."

Clean Burn will have to import corn, but Carlisle said the North Carolina location helps in the economics there. Ethanol can be trucked to customers in the East for 10 cents a gallon rather than having to pay $1 a gallon for rail shipment from a more distant refinery.

The refinery in Hoke County should be up and running by March 2009.

In neighboring Robeson County, a Georgia company is planning to build a small-scale plant.

24 Comments

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  • TheWB Dec 5, 12:04 p.m.

    Joe- the point is that they converted. They had the foresight to do so and now they are reaping the benefits, while we pay through the nose to states that support terrorism. Yes they utilized cane to do it, so what, we can grow cane, we can grow other various grains and grasses that can be converted too. The problem now is, instead of having an ongoing process for the past several years that would have allowed raw materials and the infrastructure to be built up wisely, we are now in a rush mode to make it happen quickly and corn is the only vast commodity available to do it.

  • Joe Schmoe Dec 5, 10:59 a.m.

    "...how can you explain Brazil, they have totally switched and have very cheap energy without depending on any outside source?"

    Easily: sugar cane grows there. Look it up to find out the relative energy cost-to-produce and yield of different biofuels. Sugar cane is viable; corn is not.

  • TheWB Dec 5, 9:37 a.m.

    The problem, as I see it, is that we are 20-30 years too late converting to ethanol. We should have started back in the dark, dismal gas embargo days followed by the Jimmy Carter years, when fuel was through the roof and gas lines formed. That was when I first heard of ethanol and it seemed like a great idea, at that time corn, wheat, and cane were relatively cheap with abundant quantities available. Had we started converting then, we would by now, have supplies and the infrastructure necessary to sustain energy independence. Farmers would have gradually switched some of there crops to ethanol producing ones, hence, to a certain degree, they would have "subsidized" themselves along the way. For those who think it can't or shouldn't be done might be right in today's world, but how can you explain Brazil, they have totally switched and have very cheap energy without depending on any outside source?

  • rnsjr Dec 5, 5:59 a.m.

    Well let us all boo hoo about this plant being built. I talked to the guy that is going to be in charge of that job and I will be there in Feb. to help build it. I can't wait.

  • whosonfirst Dec 4, 11:13 p.m.

    Ethanol production keeps getting refined as more research is done. Gulf Ethanol Inc. and other companies are fast approaching production of ethanol from the corn stalk and not the corn. Corn stalks are just left in the fields (I know there is environmental value in doing so too). This technology also can use dried grass, possibly leaves, etc.

  • Joe Schmoe Dec 4, 10:55 p.m.

    LOL. I typed it as I speak it. ANWR, that is. http://www.anwr.org

  • Joe Schmoe Dec 4, 10:53 p.m.

    "The only proviso is I want my fuel to come from America..."

    Then support drilling in ANWAR. It's insane national energy policy not to exploit that fuel source.

  • jackadoo Dec 4, 10:50 p.m.

    Right on Joe. Ethanol is a huge scam. We will subsidize it, and pay more for food because of it, and the environment will suffer.
    NC imports 400 MILLION bushels of corn currently, by rail, mostly from the midwest. When I lived in Beaufort they tried to put one on Radio Island, and we ran them and the local economic developer out of town. Without the govt subsidies and special tax treatments, there would be no ethanol industry. This county is prostituting themselves for maybe 30-40 cheesy jobs.

  • drnc Dec 4, 10:47 p.m.

    I don't really care if ethanol is economical. I'm willing to pay more for fuel, in fact, I'm willing to pay a lot more for fuel. The only proviso is I want my fuel to come from America. I'm sick and tired of sending my hard-earned dollars to the Middle East. I buy my gas from Hess for now. Do a little research and you'll see why.

  • hi_i_am_wade Dec 4, 10:45 p.m.

    BOO!

    Ethanol is LESS efficient than gasoline, raises prices of cow products (beef, milk, etc), and is WORSE for the environment than gas. In short, ethanol is lose-lose.
    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2007-04-18-ethanol-study_N.htm

    Ethanol is ONLY a good idea when it doesn't affect the price of anything else.

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