Grant supports infrastructure development for NC biorefinery

By Katie Fletcher | June 17, 2014

More jobs, increased tax base, local farmer support and financial assistance from the U.S. Economic Development Administration; these are all benefits of Chemtex International Inc.’s Project Alpha, a proposed 20 MMgy cellulosic biofuel plant or in Clinton, North Carolina. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., recently announced that the city of Clinton has received $1.76 million to construct water and sewer infrastructure to support the new plant. “These federal funds will help bring water services to the new state-of-the-art biofuels plant in Clinton and help us create jobs in the local community,” McIntyre stated in a press release. John Swope, economic developer of Sampson County, echoes McIntyre’s statement. The benefits of the grant will “have a significant impact not only on Clinton and Sampson counties, but the entire region,” Swope said.

Chemtex will use Beta Renewables’ Proesa technology to produce cost-competitive ethanol using non-food biomass as its feedstock. The facility will utilize a feedstock flexible technology that enables it to take advantage of seasonal crop patterns to reduce feedstock cost. The facility is modeled after an already operational cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy. The Clinton facility will intake several different energy grasses including Arundo Donax, which was pushed for by McIntyre and approved as a feedstock for producing next-generation biofuels in June 2013. Thanks to a nearly $4 million Biomass Crop Assistance Program award miscanthus and switchgrass are amongst other feedstocks the facility plans to intake. “We are certainly happy that the program helps farmers get the crops in the ground, and we hope to have more opportunities to use funding like that in the future,” said Paolo Carollo, executive vice president with Beta Renewables.

The grant money received by the city of Clinton brings the project another step forward in using these feedstocks to produce cellulosic ethanol. “It is very significant and important for the ability to provide water and sewer services, as well as obtain this funding to cover approximately half the cost of the infrastructure improvements,” Swope said.

Making sure the facility is environmentally friendly and that the crops do not present any problems has been a priority of the project. Right now the crops will be planted on “mostly marginal, low yielding land available within the vicinity of Clinton,” Carollo said.

The annual purchases in the region, which will be principally feedstock, is estimated at $12 million to $15 million. “This will have a significant impact for local farmers, providing additional revenue to them,” Swope said.

Another impact of Project Alpha will be the job creation. The plant will employ 65 people directly with an average annual salary of over $48,000, a significant increase from the Sampson County average annual salary of $30,822. The project will also create 250 indirect jobs in the plant region of about 15 to 25 miles. The project expects to break ground in October, and with its construction comes more jobs. Swope estimates about 600 total jobs off and on during the approximate 22 month construction timeline. Swope says the project will significantly increase Sampson County’s tax base, with over $151 million in taxable investments. “That will significantly improve Sampson County’s tax,” Swope said. “It will be by itself about a 3.6 percent increase in the tax base.”

Although the project is still in the planning stage, positive impacts are anticipated in the Clinton, North Carolina region. The plant is expected to be at capacity by the end of 2016.