April 28, 2008

Claflin eyes partnersip in fuel related research park

A spin-off of Claflin University is developing plans for the creation of a research park with a focus on alternate fuels.

A $180,000 grant will allow Claflin’s Organic Bio-Energy Inc. and Greer-based Green Energy Partners to study the feasibility of their plans to develop a $75 million project at the John W. Matthews Industrial Park in Orangeburg County.

The companies plan to study the use of carbon dioxide to grow algae, which could then be processed into fuel. It could also provide its “green energy” to businesses in the industrial park and to the power grid.

“This is unique, what we are doing. It is one of the first models of this kind of approach in solving our energy crisis,” said Dr. Rebecca Bullard-Dillard, OBE vice president for research. She is also an associate professor and chair of the biology department at Claflin.

If everything comes together, the research park could be completed by 2010.

It is estimated when the park is operational, its annual output will be 4 million gallons of synthetic biodiesel, 1 million gallons of biobutanol in the first stage of the process and 44 megawatts of electricity.

The campus could employ approximately 25 people. Corporate and research and development personnel will number approximately 18. The entire investment could reach $75 million.

Project officials estimate it could eventually result in about 100 direct or operational technical jobs, as well as agricultural and transportation jobs.

The project got a $180,000 boost in funding Thursday from a state Department of Agriculture South Carolina Renewable Energy Infrastructure Development Fund grant. The money will be used to conduct project feasibility studies.

Currently, both OBE and GEP are in the process of forming collaborative agreements with GreenShift Corp., which owns or participates in licensing green energy technology, including syn-fuel and biodiesel.

Discussions are also under way with other corporate and private land holders about the provision of wood and wood wastes from forestry management in the area. The park will not use coal or natural gas.

Bullard-Dillard declined comment on specific companies engaged in the project due to contractual arrangements.

“We have been in discussion with federal government agencies, private individuals and public partners,” Bullard-Dillard said.

One of the processes examined will be algae propagation. Algae can extract carbon dioxide from exhaust and convert it to sugars via photosynthesis. About two tons of algae can remove one ton of carbon dioxide.

Once the algae are harvested, they can be converted to ethanol or biodiesel.

The site could also include other alternative energy projects, such as biofuel production facilities that will use cellulosic materials as feedstock.

T&D Staff Writer Gene Zaleski can be reached by e-mail at gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5551.

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