Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published January 25, 2011, 11:34 AM

Beet ethanol shows promise

FARGO, N.D. — The use of a specialized sugar beet to produce ethanol could be a breakthrough in weaning the industry off corn. A recent announcement to build a small-scale beets-to-ethanol plant in North Dakota is more than promising. It’s intriguing.

FARGO, N.D. — The use of a specialized sugar beet to produce ethanol could be a breakthrough in weaning the industry off corn. A recent announcement to build a small-scale beets-to-ethanol plant in North Dakota is more than promising. It’s intriguing.

“Energy beets” seem to have extraordinary potential as an ethanol crop. The new beet variety is not the typical sugar beet grown in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota’s Red River Valley for sugar production. Ethanol beets strictly would be grown for energy production.

Beet benefits

The agronomy looks good. The beets have been grown in North Dakota State University test plots. The dryland beets seem adaptable, drought resistant and can produce twice as much ethanol per acre as corn. In addition, byproducts can be recycled to provide power for a processing plant, and ash from burned waste can be used as fertilizer.

Financial analysis of ethanol beet production suggests the new crop could be a lucrative and productive feedstock alternative to corn ethanol. Return per ton also appears to be far better than corn ethanol, according to one study done at NDSU in Fargo.

Another plus: Beet ethanol likely will qualify as an advanced biofuel, its promoters say, because it can cut baseline carbon emissions by 50 percent. That factor immediately would make the new fuel attractive under EPA standards.

Energy investment

Investors are betting a lot on the pilot project in North Dakota. Green Vision Group of Fargo — a partnership of people experienced in agribusiness — is working with an Iowa company to move the project forward. They will ask the North Dakota Legislature for financial help to build the pilot plant. The partnership envisions 12 plants across the state, with the potential to produce 240 million gallons of ethanol a year.

The idea of moving ethanol away from corn and toward a specialized sugar beet is appealing. The principals in the project appear to have done their homework. This initiative has great potential.

Tags: