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.
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.