Local News

N.C. on cutting edge of biofuels research

Posted September 12, 2007 7:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2008 6:49 p.m. EDT

— Prices at the gas pump are holding steady across the Triangle, with the average $2.75 a gallon. But many drivers want more options when it comes to filling up.

Alternative fuel is just a trickle in North Carolina, but a multimillion-dollar Biofuels Center under construction in Oxford could open up the flow.

Alternative fuel can reduce foreign-oil dependence, cut air pollution and save customers money. There are different kinds of alternative fuel. E-85 blends ethanol and gasoline and contains 85 percent plant- or animal-based ethanol. Bio-diesel is usually made from soybean oil or used cooking oil.

The Biofuels Center of North Carolina just put together its strategic plan to lead the state's efforts to ramp up production of alternative fuel. The General Assembly provided $5 million in funding.

"The commitment of $5 million by the legislature was a hard, smart look at the future," said W. Steven Burke, chair of the Biofuels Center’s board.

A goal for the Biofuels Center is to produce 10 percent of the liquid fuels sold in North Carolina by 2017 and to make them from crops grown in the state. To meet the goal, the Biofuels Center will have to produce nearly 600 million gallons of alternative fuel a year.

"We're very good at growing a range of crops throughout the state under different conditions. Those crops need to be identified and explored for their capability to be better broken down into biofuels," said Burke.

Researchers are trying to keep the state ahead of the curve on biofuel technology.

"Our capacity today is slight to non-existent. Our vision to reach that goal is great indeed. We've just started," said Burke.

WRAL-TV 5 asked motorists at the Triangle's only alternative fuel gas station what they thought about the Biofuels Center's plan.

"I think it's a good thing. We need to have more of it, actually, in my opinion," said one motorist.

"It's a great way for our crops to be used, great for our farmers, so it sounds good," said another motorist.

Filling up with fuel produced in North Carolina from state crops is a bold vision. A vision researchers said can be reached in 10 years.

The Biofuels Center has more than 80 public and private partners across North Carolina.