A project that will develop an advanced biofuel from energy beets and provide growers across North Dakota with a new industrial crop is taking another important step forward, fueled by a significant two-year North Dakota Renewable Energy Council grant.
“This project truly is a public-private partnership with the Green Vision Group (GVG) of Fargo and Heartland Renewable Energy of Muscatine Iowa, plus research by North Dakota State University, to develop the energy beet biofuels industry in North Dakota,” says Cole Gustafson, NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics chair.
The NDSU Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and the Carrington Research Extension Center will continue to provide research for the project.
The $1 million phase II project includes $500,000 in funds from the North Dakota Renewable Energy Council, with approval from the North Dakota Industrial Commission, plus cash-match funds from industry partners Betaseed and Syngenta, and other in-kind contributions.
The project seeks to establish a U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency multiperil crop insurance program for energy beets; engineer and evaluate new front-end energy beet processing methods; expand regional energy beet research trials; scale up whole-energy beet and juice storage technology to enable year-round processing; and inform producers, community developers and the biofuel industry of the emerging opportunity.
“We envision developing at least 12 sustainable ethanol facilities across North Dakota,” says Maynard Helgaas, president of GVG. “Each plant will use energy beets grown within a 20-mile radius and support job creation in rural communities. This grant will help us make significant progress toward that vision and help develop North Dakota’s energy beet biofuel industry.”
GVG is in the process of selecting the location for its first processing facility, which is expected to produce 20 million gallons of ethanol per year once complete.
The first phase of the energy beet project focused on research, including yield trials, storage research and commercially testing the use of a coproduct to provide processing heat. Current yield trials are in Dazey/Hannaford, Turtle Lake, Langdon, Minot, Williston, Carrington and Oakes. In 2012, trial plots will be expand to include Jamestown, Harvey, Litchville and Colgate. The yield trials will continue to be sponsored by Betaseed and Syngenta.
The plot trial research results in phase 1 exceeded expectations, according to Blaine Schatz, Carrington REC director.
“So far, our research shows that energy beets can be grown successfully outside of the Red River Valley in a variety of soil types and conditions,” Schatz says. “The beets actually help growers improve soil health and give them greater farm income.”
“Ethanol produced from energy beets can be sold at a premium,” Gustafson says. “We expect that energy beet ethanol will produce 50 to 60 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-based fuels, which will designate it as an advanced biofuel. We are working to finalize the life-cycle analysis of energy beets through a formal Environmental Protection Agency application. Securing EPA approval of energy beets as an advanced biofuel will mean a significant premium for producers and processors in the sugar-based ethanol market.”
The life-cycle analysis research is funded in part by a separate grant from the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission and community donations.
“North Dakota farmers, processors and rural communities should see positive financial returns by growing and processing energy beets for biofuel,” Gustafson says.