North Carolina's Growing Strengths: The Perennial Grass Grower Assistance Program

The Perennial Grass Grower Assistance program was established in 2011 by N.C. State University with funding from the Biofuels Center of North Carolina to support the expansion of biomass acreage for biofuels production in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The program provides direct assistance to farmers and landowners by providing minimal cost to access equipment, crop materials, and labor to support the establishment of perennial biomass. Biomass types that can be established under this program are Switchgrass and Giant Miscanthus. Each grass should provide a 10-year minimum of biomass production following establishment with yields of more than seven dry tons per acre annually.

The impetus for this program is that the cost of establishing perennial grasses is the most expensive aspect of biomass production. Markets for these biomass materials are still emerging and the initial economic return opportunities may be marginal in the immediate years after establishment, so the Perennial Grass Grower Assistance program aims to spur grass production in the Piedmont at reduced costs. The program will provide direct establishment support, including: land preparation, necessary chemical applications through the first six months of establishment, and grass planting.

For more information about the program, contact N.C. State University assistant professor Dr. Matt Veal at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 919.515.6764.


North Carolina's Growing Strengths: East Carolina University

East Carolina University associate professor Baohong Zhang is currently working on cutting-edge approaches to increasing feedstock yields of Switchgrass for biofuels. Dr. Zhang and his collaborators have found that Switchgrass biomass can be significantly increased by modifying a single small regulatory molecule, called microRNA. The Switchgrass that Zhang is working with has more leaves and a higher tolerance to environmental stressors. The team found that many small regulatory RNAs and their targeted protein-coding genes are expressed when Switchgrass seedlings are exposed to drought and salinity stresses.

By targeting these kinds of molecules in unique ways, it will be possible to increase the biomass yield of biofuels feedstock crops. The initial results obtained by Zhang and colleagues have already been published in peer-reviewed journals. Both graduate students and undergraduate students are involved in the biofuels-related projects. The students are learning to use 21st-century methods to improve crop biomass as well to improve plant tolerance to environmental biotic and abiotic stresses, including drought and salinity. Zhang also brings his expertise to his Plant Biotechnology course, which is offered each fall semester.

Dr. Zhang’s biofuels research is a significant component of the East Carolina University Interdisciplinary Biotechnology Initiative (IBI), in which new collaborations are being encouraged and multidisciplinary research projects developed for the state’s biotechnology industries, including the biofuels sector.

To learn more about Dr. Zhang's biofuels research and other projects, click here.

Biofuels Community Symposium set for February

The Biofuels Center of North Carolina and the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) will hold a joint symposium on Friday, 8 February 2013, from 1 to 4 p.m. to highlight facilities, services, and other resources that add value for the commercialization of new technologies for biofuels and related bioproducts. The free event, Strengthening and Serving a Growing Biofuels Community, will be held at North Carolina’s Biofuels Campus in Oxford.

If you are interested in attending the event, please RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . For more information, contact North Carolina’s Biofuels Campus project manager This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

North Carolina's Growing Strengths: Forest Equipment Operator Program

With help from numerous partner groups, the N.C. Association of Professional Loggers (NCAPL) trains individuals for 16 weeks in all aspects of logging safety and health, equipment operation, and environmental compliance through the state’s first Forest Equipment Operator program. As woody biomass will play a significant role in North Carolina’s biofuels sector, the Biofuels Center contributed funding to develop this world-class training curriculum.

The Forest Equipment Operator program launched in 2012 and is designed to provide the technical and practical knowledge necessary to become a skilled forest equipment operator in the logging industry. Training takes place in the classroom as well as on live training sites using hands-on applications. Operating equipment provided by Caterpillar Forest Products and supported by Pioneer Gregory Poole Forest Products, students train on new skidders, fellerbunchers, log loaders, and crawlers on real logging jobs.

The program offers training across eastern North Carolina and will expand statewide over time. Pitt Community College in Greenville hosted the two sessions completed last year. The NCAPL seeks to expand into the northeastern region of the state and work with several other community colleges in 2013.

Upon completion, students are made available for job interviews with North Carolina businesses. Those who complete the program are qualified to assume responsibilities as entry-level forest equipment operators. Graduates also possess the necessary abilities and understanding to continue on-the-job experiences until they acquire specific skills and performance levels to be accomplished operators.

The program is community-based training for North Carolinians who want to have a quality job and career in their own community. Enrollment is limited but all qualifying applicants will be considered, including current employees who need training as well as those with construction, landscaping, agricultural, military, and other backgrounds. Tuition assistance is available to qualifying individuals.

To find out more about the Forest Equipment Operator program, call 919.271.9050 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Momentum builds after second annual Civic and Small-scale Biofuels Convening

The Biofuels Center received incredibly positive feedback from its 13 December 2012 event, Civic and Small-scale Biofuels Statewide: A Second Annual Convening of Civic, Production, and Agency Parties. The event, held at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, assembled a range of leaders from the biofuels community who shared experiences and triggered ideas for developing successful biomass and biofuels production projects that are smaller in scale. The second yearly gathering attracted more than 80 participants—nearly double last year's attendance—ranging from biodiesel producers to municipal wastewater treatment facility managers.

Dr. Richard Reich, assistant commissioner of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, addressed the audience and made the case that biofuels production will be critical to farmers as they seek new markets. “This is a promising project because [biofuels] feedstock crops give the agriculture community options,” he said.

A number of different approaches were presented, outlining practical solutions to make small-scale biofuels both efficient and effective. Use of marginal land, local crushing operations, and effective ways to collect and recycle waste oil locally were some of the solutions presented by panelists actively practicing these approaches.

To learn more about civic and small-scale biofuels production in North Carolina, contact Leif Forer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Click here to view presentations from the event.