Second North Dakota plant begins construction

By | February 01, 2006
After many years of watching neighbors Minnesota and South Dakota continually expand their ethanol production, North Dakota is getting into the game. Blue Flint Ethanol LLC, a 50 MMgy plant being built near Underwood, N.D., broke ground in late November, becoming the second ethanol plant under construction in the state. The facility is expected to boost North Dakota's ethanol production capacity to nearly 140 MMgy. Underwood is located approximately 50 miles north of the state capital in Bismarck.

Dirt work began in November prior to the arrival of Fagen Inc., which is acting as the plant's design/build firm using an ICM Inc. process design. In late December, Blue Flint Ethanol General Manager Jeff Zueger told EPM that Fagen had poured three footings for the fermentation tanks and one ring wall on a tank. An official groundbreaking is expected in January.

The plant was formed from a partnership with Headwaters Inc., a publicly traded energy services company based in Utah, and Great River Energy, a Minnesota-based electric wholesale supplier. Blue Flint Ethanol is a unique project in that it will utilize synergies from a neighboring coal-fired electrical generation facility, Coal Creek Station.

Great River Energy operates the Coal Creek Station power plant. Headwaters Inc. will be the majority owner-operator of Blue Flint Ethanol, according to Zueger. The facility will use Coal Creek Station's steam supply, most of which is currently emitted as waste energy. The ethanol plant will also integrate process water and potable water from Coal Creek Station.

Blue Flint Ethanol will not have a steam-generating boiler. "We think that will give us a significant advantage," Zueger said. He later added, "We do have an advantage over gas-fired utilities in that drying will not cost us as much by way of energy. It's a unique advantage."

Red Trail Energy LLC, a 50 MMgy plant being built in Richardton, N.D., broke ground July 7. Zueger said both plants will be targeting similar areas within the state for feedstock supply. "Obviously there is plenty of corn for both facilities," Zueger said. Blue Flint Ethanol will use approximately 18 million bushels of corn, which equates to roughly 10 percent of the state's current corn production.

Zueger said he hasn't signed contracts for ethanol or distillers grains marketers, or a corn procurement company. A relatively snow-free winter has helped construction keep pace. The plant, which is permitted for up to 65 MMgy, is expected to start up in March 2007.

North Dakota has two operating ethanol plants; Archer Daniels Midland Co. operates a 28 MMgy plant in Walhalla, and Alchem LLP is a 10.5 MMgy plant in Grafton.

-Staff Report