Pretty sunflowers serve a purpose in Raleigh

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Sunflowers along the Neuse River Trail (Heather Waliga)

Lynn Muchmore can't help but pause and take in the view of the golden sunflowers that line miles of white picket fences along the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh.

"Oh, they're beautiful. This is spectacular," he said. "I walk this trail almost every day, so I see them coming and going."

Like many other visitors, he is still trying to get the perfect snapshot.



But beyond the blooms, the flowers serve a much bigger purpose.

The fields were planted by the city's public utilities department in 2010 and serve as an application site for biosolids from the wastewater treatment plant, Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility.

"We planted a sunflower field one year as an experiment to see how much biodiesel could be produced from the seed, and folks saw it and just went nuts," said Assistant Dir. T.J. Lynch.

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The facility now oversees 72 acres of sunflowers.

Sludge from the wastewater is used to fertilize the plants.

Their seeds are eventually harvested using a mobile processing facility, creating 4,320 gallons of biodiesel.

"We try to use it in our tractors and trailers and equipment on the farm," said Lynch. "It will fuel a significant amount of our fuel needs."

The facility is now looking at other crops that can produce more biofuel and save money.

They will soon be the largest resource recovery facility in the state.

"The city has shifted from just treating wastewater to now recovering whatever resources we can out of that water and reuse them," said Lynch. "I think cities are, in general, doing their best to become more sustainable in practice."

MAP TO GET TO THE SUNFLOWERS IN BLOOM

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