Agribusiness and Applied Economics


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NDSU Partners on a $1 Million Energy Beet Development Project

– A project that will develop an advanced biofuel from energy beets and provide growers across North Dakota with a new industrial crop is taking another important step forward, fueled by a significant two-year North Dakota Renewable Energy Council grant.


Dr. Cole Gustafson, Chairman of North Dakota State University’s (NDSU) Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, states that this project “is truly a public-private partnership between Fargo-based Green Vision Group and Muscatine, Iowa-based Heartland Renewable Energy, with research by NDSU to develop North Dakota’s energy beet biofuel industry”.  The NDSU Department of Agriculture and Bio-Systems Engineering and the Carrington Research Extension Center will continue to provide research for the project.


The $1 million Phase II project includes $500,000 in funds from the North Dakota Renewable Energy Council, which was approved on Monday by the Industrial Commission, plus cash match funds from industry partners, Betaseed and Syngenta, and in-kind contributions. 


The project seeks to establish a USDA/RMA multi-peril crop insurance program for energy beets; engineer and evaluate new front end energy beet processing methods; expand regional energy beet research trials; scale up whole energy beet and juice storage technology to enable year-round processing; and inform producers, community developers and the biofuel industry of the emerging opportunity. 


“We envision developing at least 12 sustainable ethanol facilities across North Dakota,” said Maynard Helgaas, president of GVG. “Each plant will use energy beets grown within a 20-mile radius and support job creation in rural communities. This grant will help us make significant progress toward that vision and help develop North Dakota’s energy beet biofuel industry.”


GVG is in the process of selecting the location for its first processing facility, which is expected to produce 20 million gallons of ethanol per year (MGY) once complete.


The first phase of the energy beet project was focused on research, including yield trials, storage research, and commercially testing the use of a co-product to provide processing heat. Current yield trials are located in Dazey/Hannaford, Turtle Lake, Langdon, Minot, Williston, Carrington and Oakes, and 2012 trial plots will expand to also include Jamestown, Harvey, Litchville and Colgate.  The yield trials will continue to be sponsored by Betaseed and Syngenta.


The plot trial research results in Phase 1 exceeded expectations, said Blaine Schatz, Director of the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center.


“Our research so far shows that energy beets can be grown successfully outside of the Red River Valley in a variety of soil types and conditions,” Schatz said. “The beets actually help growers improve their soil health, in addition to giving them greater farm income.”


Ethanol produced from energy beets can be sold at a premium, said Dr. Cole Gustafson.  “We expect the energy beet ethanol  will produce 50-60% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-based fuels, which will designate it as an advanced biofuel,” Gustafson explained. “We are working to finalize the lifecycle analysis of energy beets through a formal Environmental Protection Agency application. Securing EPA approval of energy beets as an advanced biofuel will mean a significant premium for producers and processors in the sugar-based ethanol market.”  The lifecycle analysis research is funded in part by a separate grant from the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) and community donations.


 “North Dakota farmers, processors and rural communities should see positive financial returns by growing and processing energy beets for biofuel,” Gustafson said.


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