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From Sweetening Your Coffee to Powering Your Car

Project investigates ‘energy beets’ as new source for ethanol.

by on Apr.06, 2011

A North Dakota group of investors plans to build a plant to demonstrate the feasibility of turning sugar beets – or energy beets – into ethanol.

Brazil has the world’s most successful ethanol economy, with sugarcane as the feedstock. The U.S. has the second most successful ethanol program, but it’s held back by the limitations of corn, the primary feedstock used here.

Why not switch over to sugarcane? The U.S. doesn’t have the climate to grow enough sugarcane, but we can grow sugar beets, a whole lot of sugar beets.

 

Beet It!

A group of North Dakota agribusiness specialists formed the Green Vision Group to explore sugar beets – actually, the company wants to use a variety called “energy beets” – as a feedstock for ethanol production. The group is planning to build a $20 million plant to demonstrate the viability of energy beets as an ethanol feedstock.

So maybe sugar beets could have a seat at America’s energy table. With the price of gasoline surging past $4 in some parts of the country, now might be the time to grow the ethanol market, which currently stands at 13.8 billion gallons, according to Danish biotech company Novozymes.

Cole Gustafson, a professor at North Dakota State University, thinks so. Gustafson, who is working with Green Vision on plans for the processing center, said sugar plants have an advantage over corn because they require one less processing step. Corn’s starches have to be converted to sugar before the conversion to alcohol.

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Greener Ethanol a Step Closer to a Pump Near You

Nation's largest ethanol supplier has cellulosic pilot plant up and running in South Dakota

by on Feb.09, 2009

poets-projectThe holy grail of renewable fuels is a commercially viable process for converting cellulosic materials into convenient, combustible liquids that can power cars and trucks. The longstanding challenge is breaking down cellulose into smaller molecules that can be re-assembled into ethanol or other fuels.

Cellulose is the stuff of which plants are mostly made, and it’s comprised of a long, tough chains of sugar-like compounds that God created (or nature evolved, if you will) for the express purpose of resisting breakdown.

With their multiple stomachs, cows break down cellulose just fine. The problem is that they (more specifically, the enzymes in their guts) are rather slow about it compared to the rate at which it needs to be digested to supply any meaningful portion of the 160 billion gallons of gasoline we guzzle each year. Those enzymes and the biorefining processes that use them are still quite pricey compared to what it costs to refine petroleum, unless oil gets (and stays) much more expensive than it is today.

Nonetheless, progress is being made. A notable development was recently announced by POET Energy, the nation’s largest ethanol producer. POET has taken its cellulosic ethanol process out of the lab and into a pilot plant now up and running in Scotland, South Dakota, a small town about an hour and a half southwest of Sioux Falls.

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