Barley pathway approved for proposed Montana ethanol plant

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 23, 2015

Developers of a proposed barley-to-ethanol plant for Great Falls, Montana, received notice from the U.S. EPA that its pathway has been approved both as a D6 renewable fuel and as a D5 advanced biofuel, as long as it meets specified energy and yield levels. With the pathway approved, the last step for the project is to secure financing, according to Gary Hebener, president of Montana Advanced Biofuels LLC. “While working with the EPA and waiting for them to make their decision, we’ve been working with a major international lender. We think we are making good progress towards bank-led project financing. We’re optimistic that in the first half of next year, we will close,” he said.

The eight local investors and project developers have been working closely with the Great Falls Development Authority, and much of preliminary work is done. An option for the land for the plant site is secured, and the site has been both annexed to the city and zoned. Water and sewage utilities are in place and new roads have been built to service the site located along a rail spur. Permits are in place. “Everything’s ready to go,” Hebener said.

Once proposed as a 115 MMgy plant, Hebener said the plans now call for an ICM-Fagen facility producing 70 MMgy ethanol combined with 83 million-pounds-per-year vital wheat gluten. It will use 15.3 million bushels of No. 2 feed barley annually and 15 million bushels of wheat, he explained. “A lot of farmers plant malt varieties and typically 30 to 40 percent of the barley doesn’t make malting specifications.” With feed barley prices typically much lower than malt, the plant will provide another market for the region, plus it will be able to use off-spec sprouted or frost-damaged feed barley. On the wheat processing side, the hard red winter and hard red spring wheat varieties grown in the region are well suited for vital gluten production, he added.

The pathway petition involved lifecycle modeling of lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for barley production and the fuel process, which was first published as a notice of data availability (NODA) in July 2013. Along with the pathway notification letter, EPA posted its response to the public comments on the NODA, providing insight into how EPA views potential growth for barley as a feedstock and how it treated barley in the ethanol process.   

In the approval letter, EPA said Montana Advanced Biofuels will need to demonstrate its ongoing process energy use. It can generate D5 RINs as long as it uses no more than 30,700 Btu of natural gas and no more than 0.84 kWh of grid electricity per gallon of barley starch ethanol produced. At that level of energy use, the ethanol will meet the 50 percent greenhouse gas reduction compared to baseline gasoline that is required for advanced biofuels receiving D-code 5 RINs (renewable identification numbers.) The modeling also assumes a conversion rate of 2.16 gallons of ethanol per 48 lb. bushel of barley.