Ethanol plant embarks on biomass project

By Holly Jessen
Posted September 16, 2010, at 9:42 a.m. CST

Lincolnway Energy LLC, a 55 MMgy ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa, will receive a $1.9 million repowering grant from the USDA. The money will be used to purchase biomass, which will be burned in an existing boiler to offset the plant's use of coal. "I think we'll be able to substantially reduce our coal usage," said Rick Brehm, the plant's president and CEO.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Sept. 9 that Lincolnway was selected for the Repowering Assistance Program. Authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, it allows the USDA to make payments to eligible biorefineries for the use of biomass as a replacement fuel source for fossil fuels. Biorefineries that use biomass to provide process heat or power and were operating when the bill was enacted on June 18, 2008, are eligible to apply.

Receiving grant approval is the culmination of 18 months of work, Brehm said. "We felt that the ethanol industry is a green industry and if there is a way that we could be more green and more renewable we wanted to attempt to move that direction," he said.

A feasibility study that concluded last summer identified tree trimmings as the best feedstock for the boiler. The tree trimmings would be gathered from local communities. "We're in close proximity to the city of Des Moines, and every year there are tons and tons of tree branches of trees that are taken down," he said.

However, a lot of things have happened in the biomass industry in the last 18 months. Lincolnway is now in the process of re-evaluating types of feedstocks and potential suppliers. "We want to make sure conditions have not changed dramatically from when we did the study," he said.

Other possible feedstocks include ag residues, such as corn stover or soybean stalks. The company is also evaluating using other wood-based materials, such as old wooden pallets that are no longer able to be reconstructed.

The company is now working out a timeline for the project. The goal, Brehm said, is to have storage, conveyance and ejection equipment installed in the next year to a year and a half. The grant of $1.9 million will be paid in installments for the cost of biomass, with the majority of the equipment costs left up to Lincolnway. "We would anticipate that our cost would be somewhere about $2 million invested," he said.