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Doors of Red River Biorefinery remain closed

Grand Forks city administrator Todd Feland anticipates the ethanol plant, which closed in April 2022, will re-open later this year.

A white building with trees an cars in front of it.
Red River Biorefinery in Grand Forks, North Dakota, has been closed since April 2022. Photo taken Sept. 4, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Red River Biorefinery in Grand Forks, which shuttered nine months ago, remains closed as it continues to do maintenance and cleaning, said Todd Feland, Grand Forks City administrator.

The plant in west Grand Forks opened in the spring of 2020 and closed in April 2022.

Red River Biorefinery, which had been plagued with problems — including environmental violations — since its opening in 2020, was built to use agricultural waste, such as sugarbeet tailings, to make products including fuel grade ethanol, animal feed and renewable natural gas. USP ethanol also is listed on the company website as one of the products it produces.

Plant developers expected to ship the fuel-grade ethanol it produced to California and Canada.

The company broke ground in August 2018 for the 80,000 square foot plant that planned to convert 500,000 metric tons of agricultural byproducts per year. The plant was expected to produce about 25 permanent technical jobs and 20 secondary jobs.

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During its short time in operation, besides the environmental violations, Red River Biorefinery was the subject of complaints by Grand Forks residents about odor and had financial problems.

In 2020, the company had a wastewater bill of $1.33 million, of which the Grand Forks City Council levied about $590,000. The city put the company on a payment plan; the amount, plus $5,000 in late fees, was paid off in 2021.

American Crystal Sugar Co. in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, and Philadelphia Macaroni and J.R. Simplot in Grand Forks were potential suppliers of the agricultural waste.

American Crystal Sugar Co. terminated its contract with Red River Biorefinery in the summer of 2022 for reasons of default. Philadelphia Macaroni and JR Simplot did not immediately return messages left on Monday, Jan. 9, regarding whether they have contracts with the refinery.

Drew Lehan, Red River Biorefinery plant manager in Grand Fork, Keshav Rajpal, a Red River Biorefinery senior staff member, BioMass Solution, the Wisconsin-based parent company of Red River Biorefinery, also did not immediately respond to messages left Jan. 9 and 10 seeking information.

The last time that the City of Grand Forks addressed Red River Biorefinery, representatives said they were doing maintenance, cleaning the facility and planned to make capital improvements on the plant, Feland said.

The company’s goal is to resume operations later this year, he said.

During a Sept. 12, 2022, Committee of the Whole meeting, Feland indicated Rajpal planned to update the Grand Forks City Council within two months, but Feland said Rajpal has not done so.

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The city is waiting for a specific capital plan from the company, Feland said. The plan is anticipated to include the improvements Red River Biorefinery has made to its wastewater pre-treatment.

“Once they come back with the plan, we will brief the City Council,” Feland said.

It’s unknown whether Red River Biorefinery will continue with its original plans to process agricultural waste into ethanol, animal feed and natural gas or if it will have a new business plan.

“Time will tell what their market strategy for an end product is,” Feland said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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