Biogas from Syrup

Ethanol byproduct targeted for bio-power production
By Holly Jessen | April 15, 2011

The ethanol plant might not have come to fruition but the bio-power concept is still moving forward thanks to Houston, Texas,-based Natural Chem Holdings LLC.

Construction was never completed on Renova Energy Idaho LLC, a 20 MMgy ethanol plant in Heyburn, Idaho. The plant’s planned anaerobic digester, on the other hand, will be completed and upgraded to produce biogas using syrup from ethanol production, as well as cheese waste streams. Originally, the ethanol plant planned to produce 3 megawatts to power the facility. Natural Chem will sell its power to the grid. “It’s definitely an interesting concept,” says CEO Bob Salazar. “After studying it and bringing biogas expertise on to our management team, we did feel that this is a golden opportunity to take waste streams from the local industries or very low byproduct streams and convert them into higher value biogas, bio-power.”

The company spent $2.4 million to purchase the digester and land at auction and hopes to start construction on the digester by late summer. An additional $12 million will be spent to add a biogas purification system to produce the pipeline specification biomethane and install a short-distance pipeline to the local natural gas grid. The company wants to produce bio-liquefied natural gas and bio-power for export to California. “Our game plan would be to triple capacity over the next two to three years,” he says, adding that biogas reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 150 percent compared to regular natural gas.

In addition, the company will utilize an underground tank farm at Heyburn to develop an Eco-Fuels Terminal for blending gasoline and diesel, both with and without ethanol or biodiesel. The site currently has 17 underground tanks with piping and the company plans to add above-ground facilities such as truck receiving and loading, as well as computerized systems for 24/7 operations.

The Pacific Ethanol Magic Valley LLC ethanol plant in Burley, Idaho, is located less than 10 minutes away from the anaerobic digester. The proximity makes it an ideal source for syrup as well as ethanol.  “The idea right now is that we would buy ethanol from Pacific and do some blending and offer all grades of gasoline on a blended basis to the local market,” he says.

If the concept of producing biogas from syrup proves itself in Heyburn the company is interested in taking the idea to other areas with three to four nearby ethanol plants. For example, one area of interest is the Texas Panhandle, the location of several large dry-mill ethanol plants, where Natural Chem could build a digester to consume syrup from the plants. “We would then seek to commercialize this concept on a much broader scale, maybe taking it to 20 or 30 additional ethanol plants in the future,” he said. 

—Holly Jessen