Yesterday I went to what is most likely the last board meeting of the Biofuels Center of North Carolina.
North Carolina’s angry legislature has become famous of late. They make news by arresting citizens, and dismantling civil society by destroying little things, like education, rural economic development, and equal rights for women. By comparison the end of the Biofuels Center is no big deal.
Normally at board meetings I sit next to Billy Ray Hall. He used to run the Rural Center. It too has been eviscerated by the new temporary powers that be.
Seven years ago I was invited the North Carolina Biotechnology Center for a meeting about biofuels. We kicked around ideas. We speculated. We dreamed. And after enough meetings we created the Strategic Plan for Biofuels Leadership.
Steven Burke took that document down to the legislature and beat them on the head with it. They listened. And the Biofuels Center of North Carolina was born.
When it came into existence I was asked to serve on its board, which I happily did. It received 5 million a year in funding from the legislature, and as a private non-profit it granted out money to a myriad of projects.
It loaned Piedmont 250K to build its bio-refinery. We paid that back, but it might have cost us Leif, who went to work for them. It bestowed a grant to the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation to help us build an enzymatic processing pilot plant. And it bestowed another grant to Piedmont for commercialization of our enzymatic technology.
The Biofuels Center also funded a bunch of projects around the state. From research to mobile biodiesel processors (some of which we built) to feedstock trials, it was easy to find the fingerprint of the Biofuels Center.
When my time as a board member ran out, I was asked to serve another term. To which I delivered my standard response to everything: “Happy to.”
I was there for the creation, and I served until the end. Today I did not vote for dissolution. It’s complicated. My preference would have been to keep the center alive. Lay off the employees, break the lease, and move it into a closet at the Plant where phone messages could still be returned.
No one liked that idea.
Thinking back, no one liked most of my ideas.
While I was advocating a micro nodal model of energy production, in which there is a plant in every town powered by wastes from the community, the Biofuels Center unveiled an ambitious vision that included mythical feedstocks, fed into mythical processes, to make mythical fuels.
I had to distance myself from their thinking on more than one occasion.
When it became clear that the electricity sector wanted to vie for biomass feedstocks, I argued that we should cooperate and divvy up the resource. The Biofuels Center elected instead to compete: pitting liquid fuels against electrical generation.
While I would like to say, “They never listened to me,” I should note that they created a high-powered position for “Small Scale and Civic Biofuels,” for which they hired Leif Forer.
Despite my lack of influence, I was a believer. I bit my tongue. And I went to the meetings for years.
With the Biofuels Center of North Carolina we had something. We had a starting point. We had a platform that could have gone on to do some damage to the dominant petroleum paradigm.
Instead we let the tank run dry. The ideologues that control our statehouse thought it best to let the Biofuels Center run out of fuel.
The real loser in this dissolution is the economy of North Carolina. We once were a place for biofuels. Now we are a place for angry tea party freshmen that want to pay less tax on their yachts. And I have to say their tax breaks for the rich are impressive. It kinda makes me want to buy a Tesla. Except the government made the sale of those illegal in North Carolina…