Chemtex International Moves Forward with BioFuels Facility in Sampson County

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Innovation often comes with many moving parts. But it also has multifaceted rewards.

Take Chemtex International, a global leader in renewable processes whose plans for a 20 million gallon per year bio-refinery near Clinton will build lucrative ties between the region’s agribusiness and alternative energy economies. The company’s vision, known as Project Alpha, taps Southeastern North Carolina’s farmers in cultivating energy-rich grasses like miscanthus and switchgrass. Harvested grasses will be transported to the 166-acre Chemtex site, which will be the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the Mid-Atlantic. The facility’s is expected to be operational by late 2014. Its product will help meet America’s growing demand for environmentally friendly, renewable energy.

“Realizing an industrial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant here in the USA and proving that it can produce cost-competitive, sustainable ethanol is an important milestone in the commercialization process of advanced biofuels,” says Guido Ghisolfi, president of Chemtex. Ghisolfi believes Project Alpha will serve as a model for similar production sites around rural communities in North Carolina. “Local economies and U.S. energy security will benefit,” he says.

Once operational, the plant itself will employ a workforce of 65, including scientific and technical positions. It will also spur 250 other jobs around the region as growers and transportation businesses raise and harvest the grasses, then truck and unload them at the plant. “This is going to provide additional revenue for farmers from under-utilized farm lands,” explains John Swope, executive director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates farmers within a 45-mile radius of the new plant will collectively realize $4.5 million in revenue from the bio-refinery.

And there’s an added bonus for the region: Project Alpha will serve an important environmental role as an effluent management solution for the Southeast’s swine industry. Energy grasses can be grown on sprayfields that absorb hog waste.

Chemtex, whose corporate roots date to 1958 when it emerged from Rayon Consultants, is a unit of Italy’s Gruppo Mossi & Ghisolfi. The company’s North American headquarters are in Wilmington. Project Alpha enjoyed a critical milestone in August with the approval of a $99 million loan guarantee from the USDA. “That was the impetus for moving everything forward,” Swope says. “All the pieces are now coming together.”

When ground is broken at the Chemtex site in mid-2013, it will be the culmination of nearly three years of collaboration between North Carolina Southeast and its neighboring partnership North Carolina’s Eastern Region, along with the BioFuels Center of North Carolina. The three organizations worked closely together to identify the factors that would make such a facility viable. “This is a great project for the region and the state,” Swope says, “and it’s a perfect example of teamwork.”