Rural Communities Banking on Biofuel
As demand increases for ethanol and other renewable fuels, smaller towns in out-of-the-way locations are counting on biofuel business to heat up their economies.
Patrice D. Bucciarelli (Feb/Mar 08)
(page 2 of 2)
According to Schramke, local farmers are
already using Distillery Grain, an ethanol byproduct able to comprise
between 30 and 40 percent of cattle's total feed. But, she says, that's
just the beginning. "We've already had people looking into CO2
collection for products such as dry ice, and Distillery Grain also has
potential for use in the manufacture of plastics and other
oil-dependent consumables," she says. "The whole energy efficiency
industry is profit driven, so there really is interest from companies
who want to be close to those byproducts as raw materials."
Tyner, however, that scenario is a stretch. Most ethanol plants vent
CO2 rather than collect it, he says, and while Distillery Grain is a
boon to local livestock farmers, it's real value may lie in bringing
more agricultural - not high-tech - industries into locales where
ethanol plants reside: "We're more likely to see feed lots locate near
ethanol plants because of the byproduct."
Beyond the Cornfield
may not always be king in ethanol production. According to Sandy Hayes
of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, lignocellulosic ethanol - derived from a variety of plant
sources from fallen leaves to switch grass - is the future of ethanol
production. In fact, federal ethanol production regulations stipulate
that of the 37 billion gallons of ethanol mandated for production by
2017, 21 billion gallons of it must be produced from lignocellulosic
ethanol. As a result, private researchers are on the fast track to
extract energy from all manner of plant tissues. To do it, they're
investing in communities where they already have a presence.
Baier, director of Nebraska's Office of Economic Development, says he's
already seen renewable energy industry opportunities grow communities
as alternative energy technology evolves. Nebraska got into the
renewable energy business in the 1980s, according to Baier. Currently
there are 21 ethanol plants in operation there - including Cargill's $1
billion refinery - and others on the drawing board. Meanwhile, Abenoga
Bioenergy Corporation is pumping $40 million into a research and
development center at its York, Nebraska, facility to find ways to make
ethanol out of plants other than corn.
"The technology is
changing all the time," says Baier, "and it takes time to develop the
technology to improve the refinery and to develop new uses for
byproducts. For example, ethanol is almost becoming a small part of
Cargill's operation. They're using byproducts in food additives,
sweeteners, and other products." As a result, he says, the potential
for industrial diversity where refineries reside is very real.
there are other spinoff benefits that extend beyond the obvious. "First
of all, landing a renewable energy facility shows that communities know
how to do big projects," says Baier. "After that, it encourages them to
improve their processes." In Nebraska's case, he says, meeting the
needs of the renewable energy industry led to streamlining processes
through which plant developers obtained the Nebraska Department of
Environmental Quality clearances. "Basically, we actually reduced waste
in local government," he says. "That speaks to site selectors."