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.

North Carolina's Growing Strengths: Custom Equipment Solutions (CESCO)

Custom Equipment Solutions (CESCO) is a Matthews, N.C.-based company that offers a complete line of equipment and modular process systems for the production of second- and third-generation biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel. CESCO’s capabilities include the engineering and design-build aspects of equipment and modular system supply of pilot plant, demonstration-scale, and large-scale biofuels production. CESCO works closely with design-build partner Integrated Process Engineers & Constructors, Inc. for the project execution phases of their projects.

On a recent developmental pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol project, CESCO was involved in supplying a laboratory with turnkey seed fermenter systems. These systems are utilized by a major facility in North Carolina to develop next-generation enzymes, which provide the critical conversion step for turning sugars from cellulosic sources into ethanol. The systems include modular stainless steel laboratory benches with integrated mixer and fermenter systems. The system also incorporates all the pre-piped utility systems, including steam and clean-in-place (CIP) capability.

From biotech clean rooms and chemical plants to pulp and paper mills, CESCO is well-positioned to make an impact on North Carolina biofuels production from locally grown feedstocks. With more than 17.6 million acres of managed woody biomass in North Carolina—much of it in the western part of the state—CESCO is also ideally located near Charlotte for wood-to-fuel projects. As CESCO is additionally capable of incorporating its expertise into energy grass-to-fuel projects likely to occur in eastern North Carolina, the company has a wide range of business development opportunities across the state.

To find out more about CESCO, visit www.gocesco.com.

Biofuels Center to host second civic and small-scale biofuels convening in Greensboro

On 13 December 2012 in Greensboro, the Biofuels Center will host Civic and Small-scale Biofuels Statewide: A Second Annual Convening of Civic, Production, and Agency Parties. The event will be held at North Carolina A&T State University from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. Communities statewide have potential to benefit through locally produced fuels, economic gain, and environmental advantage. 

A range of leaders from the biofuels community will share experiences and trigger ideas for developing successful biomass and biofuels production projects that are smaller in scale. Last year, more than 50 people attended the convening, ranging from biodiesel producers to municipal wastewater treatment facility managers, and from military representatives to state government officials.

Case studies representing different vantage points or outcomes will reveal common ground as well as problem-solving and practical solutions. A framework for evaluating usefulness and shaping outcomes for local production will be conveyed and discussed. A tour of the biofuels research and development facilities at the N.C. A&T Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering will be offered.

To learn more about the event or 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. .

North Carolina's Growing Strengths: REPREVE Renewables

Formed in 2010, Greensboro, N.C.-based REPREVE Renewables LLC is a commercial supplier of Giant Miscanthus, an energy grass with prime potential for biofuels production. The company’s variety, Freedom Giant Miscanthus, is an energy grass developed for superior yield in the southeastern United States, a crop that grows with low inputs and on low-quality soils. With a stand life of more than 10-15 years, the grass can grow to more than 12 feet tall and can yield up to 20 tons per acre. For the southeastern U.S., it is a viable crop for liquid renewable fuels, biomass power, and as a source of renewable chemicals and plastics.

A perennial, non-invasive crop, Giant Miscanthus has long been considered a superior renewable energy crop but one that is expensive to get established. The mission of Repreve Renewables is to break down barriers to planting viable biofuel feedstocks on a commercial scale. Over the last several years, the company has developed planting systems, agronomic practices, harvesting techniques, and storage strategies to make Freedom Giant Miscanthus a truly commercial crop. By utilizing its vast agronomic, manufacturing, and engineering resources, Repreve Renewables has become the first company able to deploy non-seeded energy grasses on a large scale.

By making planting material readily available and planting techniques more efficient, Repreve has made the crop more cost-effective than ever before and, in turn, more promising for growers. As Freedom Giant Miscanthus is economically attractive, it becomes viable as a fossil-fuel replacement for fuel producers while revitalizing agricultural communities seeking profitable crops on low-value land.

In 2012, Freedom Giant Miscanthus was named one of the USDA’s two crops approved for use under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in North Carolina for conversion to ethanol by Chemtex International. The Chemtex facility will use several locally grown crops, but only Freedom Miscanthus and Switchgrass were eligible for special economic incentives for establishment through the USDA program.

For more information, visit www.repreverenewables.com.