NC Biofuel industry concerned over upcoming closure of state Bio - WFLA News Channel 8

NC biofuel industry left out of new state budget

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The General Assembly did not fund the North Carolina Biofuels Center in its current budget, forcing the non-profit to close its doors Oct. 31. The General Assembly did not fund the North Carolina Biofuels Center in its current budget, forcing the non-profit to close its doors Oct. 31.
PITTSBORO, N.C. -

The head of a local bio-diesel refinery calls the upcoming closure of a state biofuel center a "setback" for the state.

The General Assembly did not fund the Biofuels Center of North Carolina in its current budget, forcing the non-profit to close its doors Oct. 31.

Created in 2007, its mission was to help the state create locally grown biofuels, and help advance the state of the art for the industry.

"We were ahead of the country with biofuels technology and the idea we no longer want to lead is, in my view, a tragedy," said Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels.

The center had a budget of approximately $5 million.

"It's not like the $5 million went to staff," said Estill. "It was distributed all over the state to all sorts of projects from algae research to cellulosic ethanol to improvements in biodiesel technology."

A number of years ago, Estill's company received a $250,000 loan from the state biofuel center which it used to help build the business. As Piedmont Biofuels began to make money, it paid the loan back.

It also received several grants from the state Biofuels Center, which Estill said had been a good return on the investment of taxpayer's money.

"A lot of the R and D we did using Biofuel Center money has spread to other plants and processes. It wasn't just invested in us," Estill said.

He said the center's "fingerprints are on all kinds of biofuel projects in the state."

Estill believes the biofuels industry in N.C. is still growing and funding from places like the Biofuels Center is critical to that continued growth.

"You are birthing a nascent industry. Whenever you require innovation, it's expensive and risky," Estill said.

With the biofuels center slated to shut down in October, any unspent money will return to the N.C. Department of Commerce.

It's unclear if the Dept. of Commerce or some other state agency will continue to provide grants to the state's biofuels industry.

Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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