03/22/07 — Duplin could get research facility

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Duplin could get research facility

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 22, 2007 1:55 PM

As interest in alternative fuels and bioenergy technologies continues to grow, state Sen. Charlie Albertson is working to make North Carolina a leader in the field by expanding the scope of the Williamsdale Farm Agricultural Extension and Research Facility in southern Duplin County.

To Albertson, developing bioenergy technologies is not only important for the environment and national security, it also has the potential to play an important role in the state's agricultural economy.

"It can benefit our environment and our farmers," he said. "It would decrease greenhouse gases and it would reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

"It also would bring a lot of economic development for our farmers and the rural areas of our state and it can help our farmers stay on the farm. It can really be a win-win for everyone."

According to studies, Albertson said, North Carolina has the potential to use enough bioenergy and energy conservation practices to equal as much as 10 percent of its current energy usage.

"We can generate a lot of our energy from a variety of sources. We can produce a lot of our own energy and keep a lot of it here. We, in North Carolina, have been referred to as the Saudia Arabia for biomass," he said.

And moving North Carolina to that point is something Albertson would like to see begin this year.

"It's an issue I have grown interested in and hopefully something we can move forward on this session," he said.

Albertson already has either been the primary sponsor or a co-sponsor of several bioenergy initiatives, including one he introduced earlier this session to provide funds to the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina to establish the Williamsdale Farm Energy Field Laboratory.

The laboratory, which would be operated by North Carolina State University, would be charged with researching alternative fuels and bioenergy technologies.

Albertson said the facility likely would look at a number of alternative fuel sources: soybeans, animal waste, wood chips, switchgrass, canola, industrial sweet potatoes and coastal Bermuda grass.

It would consider ways corn could be used, he said, since the state's limited production of corn is already being used primarily as animal feed.

Albertson is also hoping that through the research they might also find alternative feed products or ways to use biodiesel by-products as feed for the swine and poultry industries.

"We have some of the best universities in the world. We're ranked third in the nation in biotech. We have a lot of knowledge and expertise we can draw on, and if we provide the money for them to do this research, I'm convinced North Carolina can and will be a leader in this area," he said.

All total, the senator is hoping the General Assembly will appropriate about $8.9 million over the next two years for the center's creation and operation.

The bill passed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, which Albertson chairs. Next, it will be considered by the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Base Budget. Albertson is vice chairman of that committee.

And, he said, with almost every senator in the state signed on as a co-sponsor, he expects the bill to continue to advance without too much difficulty.

A similar bill also has been introduced in the House and currently is being considered by that body's Agriculture Committee. And, while member, state Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, said he hasn't had a chance to review it yet, he did say that bioenergy and alternative fuels are high on his and fellow House members' agenda this year.

"We'll see several bills on green energy this year," Tucker said. "I'm all for bioenergy and biofuels."

The 611-acre Williamsdale Farm was donated to N.C. State University in 2004. Located on N.C. 41 South, it is managed by the NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the state Cooperative Extension Service.