FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - December 13, 2010
"ENERGY BEETS" HOLD PROMISE AS NEW INDUSTRIAL CROP FOR FARMERS Nation’s first sugar beet biofuels processing plant to be built in ND through BeetsAll Biofuel project
(FARGO, ND) – Growing sugar beets exclusively in the Red River Valley may soon be a thing of the past in North Dakota as producers begin to grow the crop for energy rather than food production. “Dryland sugar beets are the new source of energy production in this state,” said Maynard Helgaas of the Fargo-based company Green Vision Group (GVG).
After years of research by GVG and North Dakota State University’s Bioenergy & Products Innovation Center, sugar beets, or “energy beets,” have been grown successfully in five yield plots across the state, including western North Dakota. Adaptability, drought resistance, and twice as much ethanol production per acre in comparison to corn, make energy beets a productive and lucrative feedstock alternative to corn ethanol, say its promoters.
At $42 per ton, the gross return per acre in the state for energy beets is $893 compared to $386 for corn and $292 for soybeans, according to Cole Gustafson, NDSU professor of agribusiness and director of the Bioenergy & Products Innovation Center. “For producers to capture that income, proximity to a beet processing facility is a must,” he said.
Twelve such facilities in North Dakota are in the blueprint stage with the first, a demonstration plant, to be completed by Jan. 1, 2012. The 3.5-million-gallon-a-year facility will use patented production technology from Heartland Renewable Energy (HRE) of Muscatine, Iowa.
“What sets us apart from other ethanol plants is our technology that allows us to convert stillage [waste byproduct] into a powder, which we then use to generate 70 percent of the thermal load required to run the plant,” explained Rick Whittaker, president of HRE. “The ash left after the burning process is 33 percent potash, which can be applied to beet fields as fertilizer. This reduces the plant’s waste stream to almost nothing.”
Because 70 percent of an energy beet is water, only 1.5 gallons of water will be needed to make one gallon of ethanol, Whittaker noted.
This compares to 2.5 gallons of water used in the most efficient corn ethanol plants.
Investment capital for the BeetsAll Biofuel project will come from private and public investors. Helgaas said supporters involved in the project will be approaching the North Dakota Legislature for seed money. Approximately $5 million is needed to build the demonstration plant. Potential site locations are under consideration with a strategic partner.
Economic impact projections show $380 million in added farm production dollars flowing through the state annually when all 12 plants are operational, each producing 20 million gallons of ethanol a year.
“With a 35 to 40 percent return on investment,” said Helgaas, “we believe this is a franchisable project that will have as much economic impact on investors as farmers.”