RAEFORD — A Virginia company will reopen a Hoke County refinery to convert tobacco into ethanol, state officials said Monday, bringing 79 jobs and a $36 million investment to Hoke and surrounding counties.
Danville, Virginia-based Tyton BioEnergy Systems will restart the former Clean Burn Fuels biorefinery as part of its strategy to convert its regionally grown proprietary tobacco into ethanol, Gov. Pat McCrory and state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker announced.
Tyton’s partner, Tyton NC Biofuels LLC, purchased the facility and is planning to add the biofuels manufacturing jobs and restart North Carolina’s only commercial-scale ethanol refinery, which has been idle for more than three years in the city of Raeford.
“Companies are establishing operations in North Carolina because our economic environment is strong and our work force is extremely capable,” McCrory said in a statement. “Tyton will generate jobs in green manufacturing and provide new opportunities for farmers while investing millions of dollars in North Carolina’s economy.”
Tyton BioEnergy Systems has developed a special energy tobacco plant that is a dedicated non-food fuel crop. Over the next five years, Tyton will work to grow its energy tobacco and establish local rural processing facilities to convert tobacco into three products: sugar for ethanol, oil for biodiesel and a “green” byproduct called biochar, which is used as a soil amendment in the forestry and agriculture sectors.
Tyton energy tobacco will not compete with traditional tobacco, the governor’s office said, but rather, it will offer farmers the opportunity to profitably grow a new energy crop in rotation with other row crops or on lands not ideal for other crops.
“Tyton is committed to delivering value to North Carolina farmers and building the green-fuel basket of the mid-Atlantic through our agriculture and biofuels manufacturing operations” said Peter Majeranowski, president of Tyton BioEnergy Systems. “There is a long and important history with tobacco in North Carolina, and we are excited to work with farmers and workers, especially veterans, across the state to create a new green-energy future for tobacco that will bring benefits to the region and world.”
At first, Tyton will use corn as the feedstock in this local refinery and then transition to tobacco-sugars as farmers cultivate more acres of energy tobacco.
Salaries will vary by job function, but the average annual wage for the new jobs will be $43,671 plus benefits. The Hoke County average annual wage is $33,032.
The project was made possible in part by a performance-based grant from the One North Carolina Fund of up to $232,000. The One N.C. Fund provides financial assistance, through local governments, to attract business projects that will stimulate economic activity and create new jobs in the state. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and investment performance standards to qualify for grant funds. These grants also require and are contingent upon local matches.
McCrory said the state’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, a public-private partnership that markets the Southeast region nationally and globally, was an important resource to Tyton in its evaluation and selection of Hoke County and North Carolina.
“Our skilled work force and commitment to community economic development have created a strong business climate, and Tyton’s announcement will bring needed jobs to our area,” state Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, said in a release.
“This facility will provide an important economic boost to Hoke County and the surrounding area,” added Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Hoke. “We welcome Tyton BioEnergy to North Carolina and wish them continued success.”
McCrory said other project partners the N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, N.C. State University, N.C. Community Colleges, Sandhills Community College, NCWorks, Hoke County, Raeford-Hoke Economic Development Commission, Wake County Economic Development, N.C. Biotechnology Center and NC’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership.