NC plant to restart with corn, transition to energy tobacco

By Erin Voegele | June 11, 2014

Danville, Virginia-based Tyton BioEnergy Systems plans to restart the former Clean Burn Fuels ethanol plant soon. The 60 MMgy facility will initially restart using corn feedstock, but plans to later transition to the use of energy tobacco. The 60 MMgy plant, located in Raeford, North Carolina, has been idled for more than three years. According to information released by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, the project is expected generate 79 jobs and invest $36 million in the local economy over the next three years. 

Tyton BioEnergy Systems’ partner, Tyton Biofuels LLC, has purchased the facility. A fact sheet supplied by the company explains that Tyton BioEnergy Systems is focused on the research and science of tobacco-based fuels and agricultural activities to produce energy tobacco. Tyton NC BioFuels is a partner company focused on the startup and operation of the ethanol plant.

Regarding the startup of the facility, Tyton has indicated it is currently evaluating startup operations and scenarios with partners. The company said that it plans to release an update of its timeline at a later date.

Information published to Tyton’s website highlights several benefits associated with the use of tobacco as a feedsock for biofuel production. According to the company, tobacco has a naturally low lignin content, which reduces cellulosic production costs. The cultivation of tobacco is also well understood by farmers, with the crop currently produced in more than 100 countries. Tobacco is a low water usage plant and doesn’t disrupt the global food supply. The company has also stressed that its energy tobacco cannot be smoked or chewed. The growing methods for energy tobacco are also different than those for traditional tobacco. For example, energy tobacco plants are grown at high density and planting and harvesting are fully mechanized. The costs to grow energy tobacco are significantly lower than the cost to grow traditional tobacco.

Tyton has also noted that its energy tobacco is more efficient than traditional biofuel crops. The company said that one acre of its energy tobacco can produce three times the amount of ethanol and three times the amount of biodiesel when compared corn and soy.

According to the governor’s office, Tyton plans to work to grow its energy tobacco and establish local rural processing facilities over the next five years. Those rural processing facilities will produce sugar for use as an ethanol feedstock, oil for biodiesel production and biochar soil amendments.

“Tyton is committed to delivering value to North Carolina farmers and building the green-fuel basket of the mid-Atlantic through our agriculture and biofuels manufacturing operations” said Peter Majeranowski, president, Tyton BioEnergy Systems, in a statement published by the governor’s office.  “There is a long and important history with tobacco in [North Carlina], and we are excited to work with farmers and workers, especially veterans, across the state to create a new green-energy future for tobacco that will bring benefits to the region and world.”