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Interest growing in proposed N.D. biomass refinery

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Development of the proposed biomass refinery in the Spiritwood Energy Park is moving along and interest in it is growing, CEO Connie Ova told Jamestown/Stutsman De-velopment Corp. Board members Monday.

Dakota Spirit AgEnergy will be the first biomass refinery in the country producing cellulosic ethanol and it's getting attention within the renewable fuels field. Ova said a large industrial contractor specializing in renewable energy facilities is discussing the idea of building the estimated $300 million plant.

"There's growing interest being shown in this biomass refinery nationwide," she said.

Great River Energy is building a coal-fired power plant at Spiritwood and had planned to sell its processed steam to Cargill Malt and, originally, a corn-based ethanol plant. But when the proposed ethanol plant didn't get built, GRE needed another steam host. The co-op connected with Inbicon A/S, a Danish company that developed the technology for making cellulosic ethanol using ag waste.

"Inbicon really wants to be here," Ova said. "They want to see the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant."

The technology in Inbicon's demonstration plant in Denmark uses wheat straw to produce ethanol, but Ova said there isn't all that much wheat being produced in this area. GRE's feasibility study is also looking at other biomass as feedstock, including corn stover and cobs, barley waste, sugar beet foliage, switchgrass on CRP land and sunflower hulls within a 70-mile radius. At the same time, Inbicon is working on refining its technology to include a broader range of biomass.

As this will be the country's first biorefinery, GRE isn't rushing into construction, Ova said, as there are a lot of details on a project like this. GRE is studying other aspects such as biomass baling, harvesting and transport. It also needs to get farmers on board with the concept. Financing the project is another aspect.

"They want to make sure everything is in place before they go ahead," Ova said. "That's why they don't plan to open until 2014 or later."

Ova said GRE has added another partner, Jeff Zueger, Blue Flint Ethanol general manager. Blue Flint is a joint venture between GRE and Headwaters Inc. Ova said GRE is planning much the same kind of business setup with Dakota Spirit.

Because the truck traffic will be very different than it would have been for a corn-ethanol plant, Ova said the highway study done for the area a few years ago needs to be updated. She said the Ag Products Utilization Commission is being asked for $100,000 to pay for the update.

"Even though there will be more trucks, there will be less weight," Ova said.

The JSDC Board also voted its support for a local measure on the June ballot asking for a county-wide mill levy increase as well as a half-cent sales tax for road improvements in the county. Only Mayor Clarice Liechty voted against supporting County Measure 2.

Rough Rider Renewable Fuels, a potential bio-diesel project for the Spiritwood Energy Park, got approval from the JSDC Board for an extension on its option to buy JSDC-owned land in the park for a bio-diesel plant. Rough Rider requested an extension through November. Ova said the language of the option doesn't hamper the JSDC should another company want the whole 100 acres. And the extension gives Rough Rider the time it needs.

"The federal tax incentives expired, but she's (Elizabeth Larkin, head of Rough Rider) is still moving forward, trying to get partners," Ova said. "It would be a good fit out there, but it's not profitable right now."

A plant producing bio-diesel would also use the steam produced by the power plant in its manufacturing process.