Under the Dome

Biofuels Center issues its own obituary

The state-created Biofuels Center of North Carolina issued its own obituary today, saying it has begun winding down its operations and plans to shut down permanently by Oct. 31. All 14 employees will be out of work within 90 days, without severance payments.

The 5-year-old Oxford-based organization, which is created to help the state develop biofuels made from energy crops other than corn, lost its $4.3 million in annual funding under the reigning Republican majority in the state legislature.

Its office, with experimental plots of Arundo donax and other potential energy crops, will be returned to the N.C. Department of Agriculture. The biofuels center leased the building for $1 a year.

Now that its end is near, the center's announcement dispenses with the usual bureaucratic boilerplate and blandishments. Instead, the center characterizes its own demise as a setback for North Carolina, a competitive advantage for neighboring states and a sign of legislative myopia.

"Other Southeastern state will note with pleasure that North Carolina has eliminated the Center," the release quotes CEO W. Steven Burke.

"The Center, a growing biofuels community statewide, and companies considering new facilities here share dismay that North Carolina has visibly pulled back from the nation’s lead state biofuels agency and from long-term commitment to comprehensive biofuels development,” Burke says in the release. “No longer pursuing advanced biofuels with a focused, comprehensive strategy will lessen opportunity to create rural jobs, strengthen agriculture, and create an enormous biofuels and biomaterials sector."

The center will close out its accounts and projects and will return unspent funds to the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Its goal was to help North Carolina offset 10 percent of transportation fuels with ethanol and biodiesel. It achieved an infinitesimal fraction of that goal in homegrown biodiesel production.

The center's release states that it has received praise from all over the country when the legislature moved to cut off funding.

One support letter states that a partner company “would not have made the decision to locate its first U.S. advanced biofuels facility in North Carolina without the Biofuels Center.” Another company wrote that “defunding of the Biofuels Center sends a strong message to industry that North Carolina is no longer interested in the advanced biofuels industry.”

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