Red River Biorefinery breaks ground in North Dakota

By Lisa Gibson | August 22, 2018

An ethanol plant that will process sugar beet tailings, as well as potato and pasta processing waste held a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 22, despite the fact that construction already has begun on the 11-acre site. “We’ve already started some of the activities on this site, so this is more ceremonial,” said Kashev Rajpal, of BioMass Solution. “But we wanted to take time out to celebrate.”

BioMass Solution’s plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, will use up to 500,000 tons annually of the process wastes, producing 16.5 MMgy of ethanol and generating D3 and D5 renewable identification numbers (RINs). The plant will use sugar beet processing technology developed by Biotechnika, which has one sugar beet ethanol plant operating in Poland. The process, according to Jacek Chmielewski, principal of BioMass Solution, is much like the corn-to-ethanol process, once the feedstock hits the fermentation step. The difference is in the feedstock processing.

The feedstock has a higher water content than corn, Chmielewski explained, so hydrolysis and pasteurization are different, including new enzymes for hydrolysis. The excess water in the thin stillage is put through anaerobic and aerobic processes to generate more energy for the plant. The temperatures and other process conditions vary a bit, too, and the overall size of the plant is smaller than traditional U.S. corn ethanol plants, said Tomasz Kapela, owner of Biotechnika.

The plant is expected to be operational at the beginning of 2020.

While a sugar beet waste plant is innovative for the U.S., 21 percent of the European Union’s ethanol is made from sugar beet products, Chmielewski said.

“For us, it’s not really a new process,” Kapela said. “It’s really just approaching the process in a more efficient way.”

BioMass Solution has a long-term contract with area sugar beet cooperative American Crystal Sugar Co., as well as with partners Simplot, a potato processor in Grand Forks, and Philadelphia Macaroni Co. The plant will operate year-round, Chmielewski said, as at least one of the three feedstocks will be on hand at all times. The plant will process all the waste from all three local plants, though pretreatment will vary slightly with each, Kapela said.

The ethanol will be sent to California, as the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard offsets transport costs, making the market the most favorable, Chmielewski said. The process does create a wet animal feed byproduct with higher protein than traditional DDGS. The feed will be sold locally.   

Kapela and Chmielewski agree that Red River Biorefinery could become a model for other ag waste operations in the U.S. “We’ve got to build it, we’ve got to start it up and we’ve got to show that it operates as it’s supposed to,” Kapela said. “But we hope it’ll be the first of many.”