Hoke refinery to use tobacco to create ethanol

Staff report

June 2, 2014

RAEFORD — North Carolina’s only commercial-scale ethanol refinery, shuttered in 2011 just months after preduction began, has been bought by a Virginia company which plans to hire 79 people and invest $36 million into Hoke County and the surrounding areas.

Tyton NC Biofuels LLC, a partner of Tryton BioEnergy Systems, plans to begin production of ethanol immediately at the former Clean Burn Fuels biorefinary in Raeford, Gov. Pat McCrory’s office said today. But instead of corn, ethanol’s traditional source, the Danville, Va. business aims to utilize “special energy” tobacco grown as a designated fuel crop.

Over the next five years, the company plans to establish rural processing facilities that will convert the tobacco into sugar for ethanol and oil for biodiesel as well as market a byproduct called biochar, a high-carbon soil additive. It is unclear where those facilities will be located.

Salaries for the Raeford plant will vary by job function, but the average annual wage will be $43,671 plus benefits.

“There is a long and important history with tobacco in NC, and we are excited to work with farmers and workers, especially veterans, across the state to create a new green-energy future for tobacco that will bring benefits to the region and world,” said Peter Majeranowski, president of the company.

Greg Icard, Scotland County’s economic developer, said the announcement is good news for the area’s “mobile workforce.”

“One unique thing about Scotland and all the counties around us — Richmond, Hoke, Robeson, even Marlboro — is that people may live here yet work there,” he said. “… You want your region to thrive, because as the regions grow it helps individual counties as well.”

The plant will at first use corn, transitioning to tobacco sugar as area farmers begin to cultivate the “energy tobacco.”

“Farmers can get into the energy business and help North Carolina and our nation become energy independent,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “With North Carolina’s history and expertise in tobacco, this is an excellent opportunity to ensure tobacco farming’s viability.”

The statement from the governor’s office names many state agencies as partners in recruiting Tyton to the area, including the One North Carolina Fund, which awards grant money to businesses which meet certain job-creation and investment requirements.

“This facility will provide an important economic boost to Hoke County and the surrounding area,” said Rep. Garland Pierce, of Wagram. “We welcome Tyton BioEnergy to North Carolina and wish them continued success.”