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Expert says NW has Potential for Biofuel Production

by John Schmitz
Capital Press - December 20, 2002

PORTLAND -- A USDA scientist told seed growers here recently that nonfossil fuels made from Northwest crop residues could soon help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"I think within 10 years there will be considerable production in the Northwest," said Gary Banowetz, a USDA-Agricultural Research Service researcher who works out of Corvallis.

"There's potential for both biodiesel and bioethanol, but I think long term the greatest potential is for bioethanol," Banowetz said.

He bases this on the wide availability of crop residues such as wheat and grass straw, which are rich in cellulose that can be converted to bioethanol.

In the Midwest, the raw source for bioethanol is starch from corn that is also grown for hog feed. But those supplies can fluctuate with the rise and fall of the hog market, Banowetz said.

"The supply of (Northwest crop residues) for ethanol production doesn't rely on what hog markets are doing. We'll have a very stable supply of these waste products."

Banowetz said that around 60 gallons of ethanol can be made from one ton of straw, and that each year about 8 million tons of wheat and grass straw alone are produced in the Northwest.

Unlike the Midwest, where huge amounts of soybean oil are transported many miles by rail before being made into diesel fuel in large plants, production in Oregon would probably take place in smaller facilities, Banowetz said.

"We think the model in the Pacific Northwest is going to be different than that in the Midwest."

This could include farmer-owned refineries.

Oregon State University engineering associate professor Jeff Wolstad, who also spoke at the seed league meeting, is more enthusiastic about the possibilities of producing biodiesel fuels in the Northwest from oil crops such as canola.

"If there's a demand for it and the will to do it we could certainly become a source," Wolstad said. "Even though there aren't many oil crops grown in the state, I think there's great potential for Oregon."

He cited the Columbia Basin, where canola oil grows well, as a good area for production.

"There's also the potential to develop other crops for this." One he mentioned is mustard seed.

Because meadowfoam oil brings good prices in the cosmetic industry it would not be a good candidate for diesel fuel production, Wolstad said.

Soybean varieties that are good oil producers do not grow well in the Northwest, Wolstad said.

While ethanol is now used only as an additive in gasoline, diesel fuels produced from plant material can either be used as an additive in diesel fuel or wholly replace diesel fuel, Wolstad said.

Wolstad said that while biodiesel fuels can produce small amounts of deleterious nitrous oxide, they are cleaner fuels overall than fossil-based fuels because they lessen carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions significantly.

As for biofuel plant funding, Banowetz said that the new farm bill for the first time contains several energy provisions. "This is kind of reflecting the importance the administration is putting on reducing our dependence on foreign oil," he said.

One of the provisions encourages the federal government to give preference to biofuels when purchasing fuel, Banowetz said. "There are also provisions that provide grants and low-interest loans to producers to install energy producing systems. The thing that's going to drive this in the Northwest as it has in the Midwest is federal and state policy."

Banowetz said that the "model for success" in any biofuel program is Minnesota, where the legislature mandated that all gasoline sold in the state contain 10 percent ethanol, which is used to replace the harmful additive MTBE.

If this policy were to be adopted by all states the market for ethanol would far outstrip demand (supply) since since it would take 9 billion gallons of ethanol to replace MTBE and only 1.8 billion gallons are produced each year, Banowetz said.

On the same issue's Front Page:

Ethanol Plants could Fuel Economy by Dave Wilkins

BOISE -- Idaho's sagging economy could get a big boost from the construction of some new ethanol plants using home-grown crops as feedstock, a new study suggests.

The study by BBI International, a Colorado consulting firm, looked at the likely effects that would result from the construction of four new ethanol plants in Idaho. At least two new plants are already in the planning stage in Idaho - one in Payette County and one in the Magic Valley.

Four new ethanol plants in different regions of the state could created 1,900 permanent jobs, add $58 million in household income and produce $11.3 million in new tax revenues, the study found.

The study "leaves no doubt that ethanol production in Idaho has enormous potential to provide Idaho farmers with a substantial market for their crops," said John Crockett, renewable energy program manager with the Idaho Energy Division, the group that request the study.

the study's projections were based on the construction of one ethanol plant in each of four regions of the state: The panhandle, southwest, south-central and southeastern Idaho, using wheat, barley and corn as primary feedstocks.

The study concluded that sugarbeets, potatoes and dairy whey would be too expensive to consider as a primary feedstock for the plants.

The construction of four ethanol plants capable of producing a total of 98 million gallons for fuel annually could generate an additional 3,800 jobs, the study said.

The study didn't look at whether ethanol production is feasible in Idaho, but only at what the economic impacts would be if the four plants were built.

The study ranked Idaho counties with the highest potential for ethanol production based on the availability of feedstocks. A new joint venture between Intrepid Technology and resources Inc. of Idaho Falls and the Magic Valley Energy Coalition is close to announcing a site for a new ethanol plant somewhere in Minidoka or Cassia counties.

Possible Economic Boon The top 10 counties and the estimated amount of ethanol that could be produced using the feedstock available in each

  1. 10.3 m gallons - Bingham
  2. 8.1 m gallons - Cassia
  3. 7.3 m gallons - Power
  4. 6.8 m gallons - Latah (near Lewiston)
  5. 5.7 m gallons - Lewis (near Lewiston)
  6. 5.3 m gallons - Canyon
  7. 5.3 m gallons - Bonneville
  8. 5.0 m gallons - Nez Perce (contains Lewiston)
  9. 4.9 m gallons - Jefferson
  10. 4.3 m gallons - Twin Falls

Officials have declined to name the exact site until the deal is completed, but "it's here in the Mini-Cassia area," said Winson Inouye, co-director of the newly formed Magic Valley Energy Co.

The group already has received some commitments from equity investors and is in the process of getting the rest put together to begin financing the project, Inouye said.

Construction of a plant in the area could begin by early 2004.

"We've moved significantly closer to getting it done, and it looks like it will get done. We're pretty optimistic right now," Inouye said.

Contrary to early assessments, it's now looking like barley will make a viable feedstock for an ethanol plant in the Mini-Cassia area, Inouye said.

"Initially, we were somewhat pessimistic about using barley as a feedstock, but right now we think we can use all the feed barley we could get, he said.

Also in the same issue's News Briefs (somewhat redundantly):

Ethanol Impact Studied

BOISE -- Four new ethanol plants proposed for Idaho have the potential to create 1,900 permanent new jobs, $58 million in new household income, and produce $11.3 million in new tax revenues, a new economic impact assessment says.

The four proposed plants would use Idaho agriculture products as feedstock.

The economic assessment was done for the Idaho Energy Division by BBI International, a Colorado firm. It looked at the potential economic benefits to the state and the return on investment to the state of any existing or proposed state ethanol incentives, said John Crockett, renewable energy program manger with the Idaho Energy Division.

The four plants could produce 98 million gallons of ethanol a year, which would consume 25 percent of the wheat, barley and corn produced in each Idaho County, Crockett said.

The plants would also create another 3,800 direct and indirect jobs while they were being built, he said.

"This economic impact assessment clearly shows that ethanol production in Idaho has the potential to bring significant economic development while adding value to local crops that are currently exported out of the state," he said.

The proposed plants would be built in the Panhandle, to produce 22 million gallons of ethanol a year; south-central Idaho, producing 32 million gallons a year; and southeast Idaho, producing 28 million gallons a year, he said.

There are two ethanol plants already in Idaho, producing about 6 million gallons of ethanol a year, he said.

John Schmitz
Expert says NW has Potential for Biofuel Production
Capital Press - December 20, 2002

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