Biofuels support community, could create new jobs

18 Oct 2010 | Marine Cpl. Jessica L. Martinez

With the prices of fossil fuels increasing and the carbon footprints being left due to carbon dioxide emissions, biofuels are beginning to gain more popularity around the globe.                                                                            

Biofuels, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, are fuels composed of or produced from biological raw materials. There are many types of biofuels such as ethanol, bio-diesel, biomass and bio-jet fuel. There are a number of crops that can be used to create biofuels, such as soy beans, corn, canola and potatoes.

While gasoline and diesel take millions of years to be made from decomposed plants and animals, biofuels are made from plants and produce that are grown every day.

“Much of the gasoline in the United States is blended with a biofuel – ethanol,” as stated by the National Geographic website. “This is the same stuff as in alcoholic drinks, except that it’s made from corn that has been heavily processed. There are various ways of making biofuels, but they generally use chemical reactions, fermentation, and heat to break down the starches, sugars and other molecules in plants. The leftover products are then refined to produce a fuel that vehicles can use.”

The creation of a regional biofuels industry would help create jobs and support farming in the area, said Joe Ramirez, director of Marine Corps Liaisons for Government and External Affairs for MCB Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River.

There are multiple biofuels manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, but they are all west of Interstate 95, and since most are either shut down or operating at a greatly reduced capacity, it would be beneficial to have a facility in the eastern region, said Mark Sutherland, director of the Eastern Region Military Growth Task Force.

“This industry’s contributions to the preservation of working lands such as farms and forestry, is that it supports the sustainment of Eastern North Carolina’s military training missions,” said Sutherland. “The feed-stocks here in the east and if we want a viable and robust biofuels industry in North Carolina, then we need to have the biofuels production facilities here as well. It only makes sense.”

Currently, the Military Growth Task Force of North Carolina’s Eastern Region is implementing the first phase of Project Eastern Gain, a partnership between MGTF and the North Carolina Biofuels Center, to create a robust and viable biofuels industry in eastern North Carolina.

Sutherland said they have received more than enough interest from local farmers, and they have support from N.C. State University and the N.C. Military Business Center. However, the big hurdle is finding a way to tie in all the components of N.C.’s existing, underutilized biofuels production and distribution capacity in order to rapidly and substantially increase the in-state production.

Since 1994, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has been the largest single purchaser of bio-diesel in the nation with 11.5 million gallons a year. Last year, North Carolina only produced 2 million gallons of bio-diesel, so the NCDOT’s supplier had to import the remaining 9.5 million gallons from out of state.

For Fiscal Year 2010, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River used a total of 532,143 gallons of diesel. Of that, only 146,000 gallons were bio-diesel.

The MGTF hopes to provide fuel for all the military’s needs as well as the NCDOT’s needs for bio-diesel with feed-stocks from North Carolina’s famers and foresters by 2012, said Sutherland.

This could be a reliable income for farmers, said Ramirez. These crops are easily grown in this area and different crops can be grown during different seasons, which give farmers more stability in their crops.

Farmers would grow the crops and then sell them to the biofuels manufacturers who in turn, produce the biofuels. Since the manufacturer would be locally, not only would the cost of fuel be less for locals, but by keeping the work and manufacturing in the area, it not only helps farmers and foresters, it also helps to build a more resilient regional economy.

For more information about biofuels, visit the Military Growth Task Force of North Carolina’s Easter Region website, or call 325-8112.