State lawmakers are being asked to spend more than $25 million to help fuel the growth of a biofuels industry in North Carolina.

The funding is part of a nine-point strategic plan titled "Fueling North Carolina’s Future: North Carolina’s Strategic Plan for Biofuels Leadership.” It was presented Tuesday to the General Assembly, which had mandated its creation last year.

Planners also placed emphasis on development of material other than grain as sources for ethanol.

Because of an abundance of materials ranging from forests to wood byproducts and plants that could be turned into biofuels, North Carolina has been called the “Saudi Arabia of biomass.”

"By the year 2017, 10 percent of liquid fuel sold in North Carolina could come from biofuels grown within this state and produced within this state," said Steven Burke, senior vice president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Based on current consumption levels, that goal would amount to more than 500 million gallons of biofuel per year.

Writers of the plan also noted that other states are pursing aggressive development of biofuel programs, including Tennessee ($73 million), Georgia ($76 million), Florida (more than $100 million), Oklahoma ($40 million) and Washington ($39 million).

"A lot of our neighboring states are doing a lot more and are a lot more aggressive than we are around the issue of what do we do about alternative energy," said state Department of Revenue Secretary Norris Tolson, who was part of the team preparing the report.

"North Carolina could be the ethanol capital of the East Coast if we do it right," Tolson said. "To do it right, we’ve needed this statewide strategic plan for biofuels development—a plan not unlike the one created for the state’s successful biotechnology development. These plans help the General Assembly and North Carolina businesses know what to invest in and our universities know what to research."

The General Assembly asked for the report last year. There were more than 70 contributors, including representatives of several agencies and schools, among them the Biotechnology Center and the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center.

Backers of the plan seek to develop a biofuels industry equivalent to the biotechnology industry in North Carolina. Over the past 25 years, biotech grown into one of the largest such clusters in the United States.

Key points in the plan include:

  • $4.5 million in research to identify and develop new or improved biofuel feedstocks
  • $14.5 million for development of an “efficient industrial and enzymatic processes” to produce cellulosic-based ethanol rather than grain-based ethanol
  • $2 million for development of the state’s existing sources of agricultural, forestry and agronomic sources that could be used for biofuels
  • $4 million for construction of a pilot/deployment/processing plant in order to “streamline research.”

The plan also asks that the state fund 25 percent of the cost, estimated at $25 million, for construction of an “advanced biofuels acceleration facility.” The plant would be built in partnership with private sector partners to test feedstocks for biofuels.

"The state can do the seed money and the intellectual background, but it’s got to be put out there by real people, real business people, real entrepeneurs," said state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.

Writers of the plan also want a $500,000 annual appropriation for a biofuels commission that would “advance” work force development for a biofuels industry and create public education programs.

"They put $500,000 in for a commission, which I felt was a little high for people just sitting around talking and no product," Kinnaird said.

Other points include:

  • “Implement a comprehensive State-funded incentives program to maximize development of cost-competitive, bio-based fuels and to expand production and retail infrastructure
  • “Sustained biofuels-related economic development commitment by state leaders to enhance national and economic security, rural development and gain to farmers and agriculture, environmental benefits, and identification and development of local and regional resources, feedstocks and production facilities
  • “Biofuels-commission-led development of a roadmap—a coordinated plan involving task forces and partners throughout the state—to maximize statewide development, production and commercialization of biofuels
  • “Creation of a new biofuels industry and economic sector statewide within 10 to 15 years, capitalizing on the state’s unparalleled biotechnology, agricultural, forestry, and resource strengths.”