GRE studyA $100,000 grant to Great River Energy is taking its development of a biomass ethanol refinery at Spiritwood to the next step with a detailed feasibility assessment of feedstock availability and potential markets for the byproducts.
A $100,000 grant to Great River Energy is taking its development of a biomass ethanol refinery at Spiritwood to the next step with a detailed feasibility assessment of feedstock availability and potential markets for the byproducts.
The North Dakota Commerce Department’s Agricultural Products Utilization Commission awarded GRE the grant to fund the feasibility studies. Still virtually unknown in the United States, the technology for manufacturing cellulosic or biomass ethanol has been developed by Inbicon, a Danish company.
The biorefinery, called Dakota Spirit AgEnergy, could be the first to produce ethanol commercially using cellulosic material as feedstock. That makes the studies even more important, said Sandra Broekema, GRE’s manager of business development. Being first means dealing with a lot of unknown factors, but the most important, she said is having sufficient feedstock.
Broekema is overseeing development of the $300 million biorefinery project. She said an earlier study looked at a variety of biomass materials within a 50-mile radius that could be used as feedstock. However, as Inbicon’s technology is based on using wheat straw as the feedstock, this study is focusing on the present and potential availability of that biomass within a radius of 70 to 100 miles.
“We’ll need four times as much (wheat straw) feedstock available as we need for production because we won’t be able to get it all,” Broekema said. “And we’ll need to know the cost of transportation in order to move the project forward.”
North Dakota State University will be handling this portion of the study. Broekema said NDSU would also project into the future as farmers potentially add more wheat acres for feedstock.
Another group is looking at markets for the byproducts of cellulosic ethanol manufacturing. Broekema said TSS has national expertise in potential markets for the molasses and lignin. Originally, GRE saw molasses as feed for animals, but Broekema said it may have other higher value uses.
“There are two Minnesota companies that are looking at molasses for plastics and adhesives,” she said. “Unlike petroleum, the products would be biodegradable. Molasses would be a replacement for petroleum. It could mean a whole new industry we could introduce into North Dakota.”
GRE saw lignin as a fuel for its heat and power plant, Spiritwood Station. It would replace some of the coal used to produce steam-generated electricity. Broekema said TSS will be looking at higher value alternative markets for the lignin as well.
“This is a multi-faceted feasibility study,” she said. “We’re really excited about the potential for GRE and for North Dakota.”
John Mittleider is excited about the potential as well. Mittleider is with the North Dakota Commerce Department’s Agriculture and Energy Development. He said he’s been part of the biorefinery development process from initial discussions on the project.
“This could be the first commercial-scale biorefinery in the country, perhaps in the world,” he said. “The feasibility study on the feedstock is a very key component of this as well as the economic viability of a project like this.”
Mittleider said eight to 10 semi loads of feedstock would have to be trucked to the refinery every day to reach the 480,000 tons needed. He added that’s “a huge volume of material to get.”
“There are a number of challenges to look at, but challenges are just opportunities in disguise,” he said.
The Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. is a partner in the biorefinery project. CEO Connie Ova said a couple of months ago, the refinery “will have a huge economic impact on the area.” She added that if the money is there, farmers will grow wheat to supply the straw feedstock.
Jim Boyd, JSDC president, said Tuesday the JSDC is fully supportive of GRE’s plans.
“The Inbicon technology has a lot of promise and this study is critical,” Boyd said.
The final report on the two feasibility studies is due in September, Broekema said.
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org