Virginia Tech is once again shooting for environmental friendliness by creating a sustainable source of bio-fuel in Danville, Va.
The construction of the Sustainable Energy Technology Center will be breaking ground in Cyber Park in early 2010 as a part of the expansion of the Virginia Tech-sponsored Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
The $10.5 million project has been funded by grants awarded to IALR by the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, an organization that promotes economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent areas.
SEnTeC will be a facility where staff members and graduate students build upon the research done at IALR on bio-fuels and bio-based products.
They will attempt to work with local farmers to utilize their crops in more economically feasible and environmentally sustainable ways.
"It will be a cornerstone for the establishment of a bio-based industry in south central Virginia and throughout the commonwealth," said Dr. John Kennedy, senior director of research and innovation at IALR.
Tech students and faculty members will be able to take advantage of the educational opportunities presented at SEnTeC.
Deborah Morehead, director of communications and public relations at IALR, said the research done at SEnTeC will be a combined effort of local farmers' knowledge of growing tactics and the exploration of new processes and crops done by scientists of today.
"What we hope is there will be a strong partnership of growers and cooperatives in the region so growers will retain some of the profits of the initiative," said Tim Pfohl, grants program director of the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.
Danville, a city known for its once prosperous textile and furniture manufacturing industries as well as a source of viable tobacco farming, is a part of one of the poorest regions in Virginia.
Morehead predicts not only more job opportunities and a stronger economy as a result of SEnTeC, but also an emerging sense of energy independence.
"It's envisioned that the direct economic impact of doing this kind of work here will bring in $10 million to $11 million every year |once we get everything up and running when we expect it to," Morehead said.
Kennedy said other companies within the bio-based industry might be attracted to the area.
Spin-off companies could develop and promote significant commercial development within the region as a result of the new facility.
Pfohl hopes research at SEnTeC will develop intellectual property that could contribute to the bio-energy industry.
"That would then lead to commercialization of those technologies so that we could see job creation and private capital investment and industries that are producing bio-fuels using feed stocks from growers across the region," Pfohl said.
With the establishment of a successful bio-fuels industry in south central Virginia, the area's economy could feel a considerable bump.
"It's going to impact the whole world, but right now," Morehead said, "our concern is to make a huge difference here at home."
Four strategic research centers are located at the current facility.
The centers focus on horticulture and forestry, polymers, motorsports and vehicle performance and robotics.
Averett University and Danville Community College are also academic partners.