Focusing on Feed and Fuel
Farmer-owned co-op Minnesota Valley Alfalfa Producers (MnVAP) has officially produced its first batch of commercial fuel pellets after several years of research and development. President Keith Poier says the co-op is setting up a dedicated line for fuel pellet production. “Right now, we have one line and we’re alternating between alfalfa feed pellets and biomass fuel pellets, and we’re looking at being done with the second line in September.”
MnVAP’s research is focused on making the biomass crop pelletization process more efficient. “Grinding and drying the feedstock are the major energy users,” Poier says. “When you process something, the price goes up. We’ve been trying to get that down to a cost that is effective.”
MnVAP received a $1 million grant from Xcel Energy several years ago to test a Kinetic Disintegration System developed by First American Scientific Corp. that refines, dries and grinds biomass using kinetic energy. It was found to reduce costs by 20 to 30 percent, and in 2009 the company received a permit for it. MnVAP also received a $400,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s NextGen Energy Board.
For feedstock, MnVAP has been using a mixture of agricultural residues such as soybean stalks, sunflower hulls and prairie grasses sourced from crops grown by co-op members. “A key area we’re heading for is a dedicated crop for fuel pellets,” Poier says. Alfalfa's feed value is currently too high to use as a commercial fuel pellet feedstock. There is a possibility that the leaves could be stripped off of the alfalfa to use as a feed product and the stalks could be densified and used as fuel, but it all depends on markets and availability, he says.
Poier says the commercial biomass pellets the co-op produces will meet the Pellet Fuel Institute’s standards.