ND Plant to Turn Sugar Beets to Ethanol


The following article is from the Associated Press:

Dave Kolpack, Tuesday December 14, 2010

A North Dakota group said Monday it plans to open a test plant that would turn dry land sugar beets into ethanol, with hopes of building a dozen processing facilities throughout the state.

Officials with Fargo-based Green Vision Group said the demonstration facility would produce 3.5 million gallons of ethanol a year using technology developed by an Iowa company. The plant is scheduled to open in 2012.

“I worked at a corn ethanol plant for 28 years. I realized early in the game that corn was not the prefect way to make ethanol,” said Rick Whittaker, president of Heartland Renewable Energy of Muscatine, Iowa. “It was clear to us that the best bang for your buck was with beets.”

The biofuel would be produced from so-called energy beets, which are different from beets grown for human consumption. Energy beets are genetically bred specifically for the making of renewable fuels. Researchers involved in the project said the beets can produce twice the amount of ethanol as compared to corn.

Unlike corn used for ethanol, energy beets would compete against the petroleum market, not the food market, Whittaker said.

“You won’t have the food controversy like you have with corn,” he said.

The demonstration facility would be built as an addition to an existing ethanol plant — that officials declined to name — and would cost up to $6 million. It would be the first of its kind in the U.S., said Lloyd Anderson, a partner in Green Vision Group.

“Some of these technologies have been used before, but not all of them have been used in a single facility,” Anderson said.

Energy beets are ideal for the North Dakota climate, but the business won’t be cost-effective unless the processing plants are close to producers, officials said. Each of the dozen plants would generate about 20 million gallons of ethanol a year.

The process separates sugar from the beets in the form of juice, which is then fermented and distilled into alcohol. The waste material from the fermentation process is then converted into a powder that’s used as fuel to help power the plant. The leftover ash could be used as fertilizer.

“This reduces the plant’s waste stream to almost nothing,” Whittaker said.

Water costs are cheaper than corn processing because energy beets contain 70 percent water, Whittaker said. It would take 1.5 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of ethanol for beets, as opposed to 2.5 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol for corn, he said.

Energy beats were grown successfully over the summer at test plots in Carrington, Hannaford, Oakes, Turtle Lake and Williston, said Cole Gustafson, professor of agribusiness at North Dakota State University.

Researchers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado also are testing energy beets, project officials said.

“There’s absolutely no reason this won’t work in Iowa,” Whittaker said. “We just have to convince them that corn isn’t king.”

Source:  Associated Press

Posted by Haylie Shipp



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