Making Progress

Great River Energy advances hybrid corn-cellulosic project
By Kris Bevill | September 12, 2011

A planned hybrid corn-cellulosic ethanol plant near Jamestown, N.D., is one step closer to fruition following recent local approval for a 10-year tax break. Dakota Spirit AgEnergy LLC, a subsidiary of Minnesota-based electric cooperative Great River Energy, wants to build a 50 MMgy corn-based dry mill at Spiritwood, N.D., which will sit alongside an existing Cargill Malt plant and a combined heat and power (CHP) plant that is currently being constructed by Great River Energy. The ethanol plant will be expanded over time to also produce 10 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol using locally obtained corn stover and wheat straw as feedstocks.

Sandra Broekema, business development manager for Great River Energy, says construction of the corn ethanol plant could begin in April, pending the completion of project finance. This first phase of the project is expected to cost about $110 million and could be complete by 2014. Broekema says the project will be financed by private investors, adding that other state incentives aside from the 10-year property tax reduction could be applied to reduce the project’s cost.

Great River Energy’s CHP plant will be completed in 2013 and will be used to provide steam to power both the malt plant and the ethanol plant. Inbicon A/S is serving as technology provider for the cellulosic portion of the project and is currently standardizing a 10 MMgy modular design, Broekema says. After the first phase is operational, Broekema says an economic evaluation will be conducted regarding the cellulosic phase. It is expected that about 240,000 tons of feedstock would be required to supply the cellulosic plant.

Great River Energy’s project is one of very few new, corn-based ethanol construction projects expected to commence in the near future. Some industry members have voiced concerns regarding the market for ethanol after the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit is eliminated, but Broekema expressed confidence that demand for the fuel will continue to be strong. “We believe that the expiration of VEETC shouldn’t have a material impact on the overall demand for ethanol, since discretionary blending and higher concentrations are small segments of the overall market,” she says. 

—Kris Bevill