Mendota Bioenergy gets $1.4 million grant

By Holly Jessen | November 15, 2010
Posted Dec. 8, 2010

A 33 MMgy energy beet-to-ethanol biorefinery being considered for Mendota, Calif., was recently named one of six grant winners by the California Energy Commission. The $6.3 million in funding went to projects that will "reduce petroleum use, cut pollution and provide California jobs by advancing the manufacture of biofuels and the use of alternative fuels and electric vehicles," according to a CEC press release. Also receiving grant money were two biodiesel production projects, electric vehicle components, natural gas from forest waste and biomethane.

Mendota Bioenergy LLC will use the $1.4 million in grant money it received along with funds from the Mendota Advanced Bioenergy Beet Cooperative for comprehensive pre-development work over the next 12 to 18 months, said Jim Tischer, project coordinator. A feasibility study was completed in June 2009, during which the Mendota location was selected from three possible sites. "If biorefinery economics and sustainability are as favorable as we currently envision, full development will begin in 2013 with construction beginning in early 2014 with completion by [fourth quarter] 2014," he said.

The goal is to build an integrated biorefinery that would produce advanced ethanol, 1.6 million cubic feet of biomethane, 6.3 megawatts of power and high-quality fertilizer from locally grown energy beets. It would be powered by a gasifier fed with prunings from almond trees, which will provide electricity for export to the grid and heat for the ethanol process. Energy beet pulp and beet tops would be processed through an on-site anaerobic digester. Tischer compared it to the pork industry, which has been known to say it uses everything but the squeal. "We're taking the beets to the next level," he said, adding that it will bring in additional revenue for the plant and area farmers.

The plant's process water will come from recycled beet water and the nearby City of Mendota wastewater treatment plant. About 80 percent of the process water, or 82 million gallons a year of treated surplus water, will be available for irrigation or landscaping, another revenue-producing product for the plant.

The site is right next to a 25 megawatt biomass plant that produces electricity. Another near neighbor is a solar farm. "We're renewable energy central, right there in little Mendota," Tischer said.

The project developer, IR1 Group LLC, will coordinate all pre-engineering and pre-permitting work. Mendota Bioenergy will also get help from two institutions of higher learning. California State University, Fresno will serve as the overall project coordinator. The University of California, Davis will assist with research work on energy beets, biomethane and ethanol production.

Building a greenfield plant will cost more than $200 million, with another $15 million required for the preconstruction phase. The grant from CEC, while helpful, is just a small amount of capital needed to make the project a reality. "We've got some heavy lifting in front of us," he said.

Members of the beet co-op recently returned from a trip touring Germany and France, Tischer said. On the trip the group met with other sugar beet co-ops, spent the day at the Bioenergy Decentral trade show in Hannover, Germany, and other activities. The last day the group toured a Tereos sugar beet co-op factory and ethanol distillery located two hours north of Paris.