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On track: Multiple contractors work on ethanol plant

Jeff Zueger, chief operating officer for Midwest AgEnergy Group, discusses the current construction phase Tuesday at Dakota Spirit AgEnergy in Spiritwood. 1 / 6
Bricklayers install block walls as seen Tuesday at Dakota Spirit AgEnergy in Spiritwood.2 / 6
Iron workers set structural steel Tuesday on the fermentation "alley" of the process building at the Dakota Spirit AgEnergy plant site at Spiritwood.3 / 6
Foundations for distillation equipment can be seen in the foreground as two 750,000-bushel corn storage bins rise above in back. 4 / 6
Three welders wait for a panel to be installed on a fermentation tank Tuesday at Dakota Spirit AgEnergy.5 / 6
A JLG aerial lift is at one end of fermentation “alley” in the process building as seen Tuesday at the plant in Spiritwood. 6 / 6

SPIRITWOOD, N.D. — The hard hats and bright yellow vests of more than 135 workers stand out against the dirt, concrete and steel of the Dakota Spirit AgEnergy construction site here.

When operational in April 2015, the plant is anticipated to produce 65 million gallons of corn-based ethanol each year. The plant covers about 40 acres of land.

The plant will utilize about 23 million bushels of corn each year and be powered by steam energy from Great River Energy’s Spiritwood Station coal-fired generating plant located just across the road. The total cost of the project is estimated at about $150 million.

“The project is probably 35 to 40 percent complete,” said Jeff Zueger, chief operating officer of Midwest AgEnergy Group, which owns the plant.

Great River Energy is a majority stockholder of Midwest AgEnergy Group.

Tim Dunnwald, senior project manager for McGough Construction which is the primary contractor on the project, said the project has 23 active contractors and subcontractors on the site. Various contractors work on installing underground pipes that will carry steam to the ethanol plant and water back to Spiritwood Station, constructing grain storage, fermentation and distilling areas, building mash drying areas and buildings to store dried distillers grain.

The ethanol plant construction site is located adjacent to Spiritwood Energy Park Association rail loop, which is also under construction. The rail loop will provide rail access to the ethanol plant as well as other future tenants for the SEPA business park. Dakota Missouri Valley and Western Railroad is constructing the rail loop, which is scheduled for completion by Dec. 1.

Near the center of the Dakota Spirit AgEnergy plant is “fermentation alley.” This area is flanked by six 750,000-gallon fermentation tanks where yeast converts the sugars of the corn into alcohol. This area also includes the control rooms and other equipment necessary to operate the plant.

The liquid leaving fermentation alley is a combination of water and alcohol known within the industry as “beer,” Zueger said. The beer is distilled to remove the water to produce alcohol that can be used for fuel.

The remaining wet grain is dried into dried distillers grain, which would be sold for livestock feed.

Zueger said the project is slightly behind schedule but still on track to complete construction in time for an operational start at the end of April 2015.

“The only unforeseen problem we’ve had is the weather,” he said. “Everything from rail to roads to the underground work is all going real well. All parties involved have experience in the field so that helps.”

Dunnwald said cold weather last winter slowed construction progress. Recent rains have left the site muddy for days at a time followed by dusty conditions.

“Sometimes we have an hour or two of ideal conditions,” he said.

The company is currently seeking applicants for a plant manager. Additional staff of about 35 people will be added during the fall and winter.

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at