A great concept

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The pursuit of federal seed money to make Franklin a hub for renewable-energy projects is exciting news.

Opportunity Inc. and Franklin-Southampton Economic Development have partnered in the application for $500,000 over two years to launch the Center for Renewable Biomass Energy Development in Franklin.

The center would collaborate with Old Dominion University and the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium in the development of biomass energy products and processes.

Biomass is defined as biological material derived from living, or recently living, organisms such as wood, waste, hydrogen gas, and alcohol fuels, all of which can generate electricity and produce heat. Biofuels are gaining increased public and scientific attention, driven by factors such as oil price spikes and the need for increased energy security.

Such a project is right up Western Tidewater’s alley. The community sits in the middle of one of the East Coast’s most plentiful wood baskets. It’s easy to envision the region becoming a hub for so-called “green” manufacturing in a country that is becoming more environmentally conscious.

The Center for Renewable Biomass Energy Development could be the first step in the process. Where such university-affiliated research has flourished elsewhere, related private-sector jobs have followed. The best large-scale example, of course, is the bustling Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. On a smaller scale, Danville in western Virginia has benefited tremendously from its partnership with Virginia Tech.

We commend Opportunity Inc., FSEDI and community leaders for their vision in pursuing the biomass-research concept. The federal dollars allocated for such projects under the Department of Commerce’s Community Trade Adjustment Assistance Grant are limited, and the competition is fierce.

The first step is to apply, and, from all accounts, the local partners put together a terrific grant application.

We will keep our fingers crossed that the project is funded and that it becomes the catalyst for Western Tidewater’s economic resurgence.