North Dakota to host cellulosic ethanol plant

By Holly Jessen
Posted April 2, 2010, at 8:45 a.m. CNT

Great River Energy (GRE) is moving forward with a project to build a biorefinery near Spiritwood, N.D. The company wants to co-locate Dakota Spirit AgEnergy LLC, a proposed 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant, with a coal-fired power plant currently under construction. The idea is to use lignin created at the ethanol plant to supplement coal at the power plant and to power the ethanol plant with steam from the power plant.

An earlier project to build a 100 MMgy corn ethanol plant at the site didn't come to fruition and this new project is in the very early stages of development. GRE plans to spend the next 12 months doing feasibility studies, said Sandra Broekema, GRE's manager of business development, followed by preliminary engineering design and financing work. The company hopes to have the ethanol plant completed in 2015. "Great River Energy's interest in developing this biorefinery is to secure a second major steam partner for our combined heat and power plant in order to regain operational efficiencies and economies to make up for the loss of the original ethanol plant," Broekema told EPM.

GRE is working with Inbicon on the $300 million project and in late March, Broekema traveled to Denmark to see the company's technology at work. Inbicon's biomass refinery technology utilizes primarily wheat straw to produce ethanol, although other crop residues are being studied. "We expect to gather about 480,000 tons of crop residue per year for the [Spiritwood] plant," she said. "Studies will be under way shortly to determine the distance from the plant that the residues will be collected."

GRE is the developer of the project and won't be operating the plant itself. The electric cooperative based in Maple Grove, Minn., is currently looking for a company willing to take on that task.

The cellulosic ethanol plant will produce two coproducts: C5 molasses, a food for livestock, and purified lignin pellets. GRE is currently evaluating the possibility of using the lignin, along with the main fuel, coal, to fire the power plant in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. "The company is doing feasibility work to determine how much coal it could replace with lignin in a year," she said.

Spiritwood Station, GRE's combined heat and power plant, is expected to be generating electricity in the fall. In addition to generating up to 99 megawatts of electricity it will also supply up to 200,000 pounds of steam per hour to the nearby Cargill Malt plant and the company is looking for other partners, Broekema said. While not the first of its kind, the biorefinery will certainly be the first in North Dakota and possibly the first, or one of the first, in the United States.