Facility will work on biofuels

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Savannah River National Laboratory will play a research role in a newly formed coalition of universities and industries planning an experimental ethanol factory in Charleston, S.C.

Specifically, the Aiken County applied research and development facility will conduct research on how best to render nonfood biomass sources -- such as switchgrass -- into a form suitable for energy production.

"What we're bringing to the collaboration is our expertise in biological research and biotechnology," said lab spokeswoman Angie French. "We have no immediate plans to be in Charleston to work on the plant, but for a project like this, you don't all have to be in one physical place."

The proposed biofuels research pilot plant would be at the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston.

The goal is to use South Carolina's agricultural resources to help the state and nation reduce dependence on fossil fuels and enhance South Carolina's alternative-fuel industry, according to a Clemson news release dated Thursday.

"This project will provide our state with unique facilities to scale up new biofuel technology being developed by the research institutions," said Nick Rigas, the director of Renewable Energy at the Clemson University Restoration Institute and the South Carolina Institute on Energy Studies. "Biofuels produced here will utilize locally available feedstocks that do not compete with food supplies. Without such a facility, commercialization of this new technology is very difficult."

The initial objectives include demonstrating the economic feasibility of using cellulosic biomass (stems, wood, leaves, etc.) from regional plants, such as switchgrass, trees and sorghum, to make ethanol. The research collaborative has expanded to include key industrial partners: Fagen Inc., one of the nation's leaders in designing and constructing ethanol plants; Dyadic International Inc., a leader in the development of novel enzymes for breaking down cellulose; and Spinx Corp., one of the leading distributors of biodiesel and ethanol gasoline blends in the South.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

Public- and private-sector support

- Clemson has a $500,000 matching fund for the plant design.

- Clemson has provided a pilot plant building and a laboratory building on the Clemson University Restoration Institute property in North Charleston, S.C.

- Clemson has received grants for 10 new faculty positions to form a research team focused on biomass conversion.

- Spinx Company Inc. has committed to funding the pilot plant.

- Fagen Inc. has committed to provide gratis engineering and project management services for the pilot plant.

- Dyadic International Inc. is determining the best enzyme mixture to break down cellulose in switchgrass.

Source: SRNL, Clemson University


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