Piedmont Biofuels Opens!

I was greatly priveleged to be invited to the grand opening of the Piedmont Biofuels plant in Pittsboro North Carolina.

It was a grand affair with about 600 attending. The bright yellow fuel delivery truck was parked at the entrance, with a sign that said “Almost Open”. The plant is almost done, but has not yet produced fuel. But of course, the date for the grand opening was selected some time ago, and so the plant missed the deadline. Just a few more permits.

The permits required make building a wind turbine seem like a cakewalk. The fire marshall had been out to do an inspection, and forced them to put exit signs on the tent that they had put up for the occasion. This is a tent – a canopy really – with no sides! In other words, you can exit in all directions. But they had to put up exit signs. I asked repeatedly, “Surely you are just doing this to be funny.” But no, they were indeed ordered to put up the signs. Unbelievable.

Piedmont Biofuels was founded by my North Carolina brothers, Lyle and Mark. Lyle has been the driving force, and Mark has provided guidance and advice along the way. Rachel and Leif deserve a lot of credit too, as they have been on this journey all the way. I am so proud of all of them. I will be even prouder when they start producing fuel.

The plant will use waste grease from the local area. It is a 1 million gallon per year plant. This is about the amount of fuel that would be sold by the gas station at Ferndale – a reasonably busy, but not real big filling station.

The politicians all lined up to give speeches. They all repeated the same themes. Reduce American dependence on “foreign oil” (that line brought a smile to this foreigner’s face, who lives in the country that is the number one foreign supplier of oil to the US). Jobs and innovation in Chatham County. Markets for North Carolina farmers. They were pretty good speeches.

But what really struck me was what wasn’t mentioned. The politicians didn’t mention air quality. Biodiesel has dramatically lower particulate emissions, and no sulfur emissions. They didn’t mention climate change. Biodiesel comes from renewable feedstocks, and so dramatically reduces carbon dioxide emissions. The didn’t mention war. Piedmont somehow knew this would be the case, so they had a special guest from the EPA, who talked about reduced emissions. And they had Larry Shirley from the State Energy Office who gave a passionate plea about climate change. And they had a wagon to carry the kids around with a big sign that said, “No War Required.” So the guests and media got the message anyways.

On the way home, I picked up a copy of the Raleigh News and Observer, the state’s most important newspaper. The opening of Piedmont Biofuels was on the front page.

Nice work Piedmont! Now go make some fuel.

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