Minnesota funds biomass projects

By Anna Austin
Web exclusive posted Nov. 13, 2008 at 1:47 p.m. CST

Minnesota took a considerable step towards energy independence on Nov. 6, awarding nearly $3 million dollars to eight next generation energy and biofuel-related projects across the state.

The grants were awarded through the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, a program established by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty that provides a board to develop renewable energy and biofuels policies, as well as make recommendations to the governor and legislature about how the state can invest in projects to achieve energy independence, agricultural and natural resources sustainability, and rural economic vitality.

Pawlenty made the announcement on the University of Minnesota-St. Paul campus. A total of 28 proposals were submitted, all of which were ranked by a technical review committee comprised of staff from Minnesota's Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Commerce, Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Pollution Control Agency. The top eight projects selected will receive funding.

Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co., located in Benson, Minn., received $700,000 to introduce a new technology which will allow the ethanol company to use farm or wood biomass to power its existing 46 MMgy ethanol plant in order to replace 90 percent of its current natural gas usage. The company is working with Iowa-based Frontline BioEnergy LLC to install a biomass gasification technology that will provide thermal energy to the facility and enable the company to eventually transition from its current corn-based ethanol production to cellulosic ethanol production.

Minnesota Valley Alfalfa Producers, a farmer-owned cooperative located in Raymond, Minn., received $400,000 to demonstrate a pelletizing technology to process a variety of biomass materials to achieve more efficient storage and transporting methods.

Rick Neuvirth, a Minnesota hog producer, was awarded $220,000 to install an anaerobic digester technology at his swine operation, which will utilize manure to decrease odor emissions, lower operating costs and produce electricity to generate 100 percent of the farm's energy demands.

Williams, Minn.-based Northern Excellence Seed received $200,000 to demonstrate the viability of burning waste biomass, such as turfgrass, to generate electricity to power the facility.

The University of Minnesota Department of Forestry at St. Paul, Minn., received $100,000 to study the state's forest industry to determine logistics involving the sustainability of woody biomass supply to ensure sound policy and investment decisions.

Central Lakes College Ag Center in Wadena, Minn., received $100,000 to conduct a feasibility study regarding best-management practices for growing and harvesting switchgrass, intermediate wheatgrass, Survivor false indigo, prairie cordgrass, and miscanthus for use as cellulosic energy crops. The project involves a partnership between a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campus, local farmers and the University of Minnesota faculty.

The final award went to the University of Minnesota at Morris, which will provide $50,000 to cover the installation costs of a biomass gasifier to serve as a campus heating plant, reducing campus energy costs. The project is intended to lead to a contract with a biomass producer, and also be a model for biomass production.