NDSU professor, ethanol expert dies in farm accident

By Holly Jessen | May 01, 2012

Cole Gustafson was killed April 28 in a farm accident on his family’s farm in Minnesota. He was a North Dakota State University professor who was working with Green Vision Group on a project to build multiple 20 MMgy dedicated energy beet-to-ethanol plants in North Dakota.

Gustafson was the chair of the agribusiness and applied economics department at NDSU, a job he had taken for the second time in his career. He also served as the first extension bioenergy economist at NDSU. He was a dedicated professor, extension specialist and researcher that secured significant grant money in bioenergy research, said Dean Bresciani, president of NDSU.

Maynard Helgaas, president of Green Vision Group called his death shocking. He described how Gustafson would go to Center City, Minn., every spring and fall, to help his elderly father and brothers plant and harvest the crops. It was his time to spend with his family and “get back to the earth,” Helgaas said.

Professionally, Gustafson was well-known by many. He was always studying, always prepared and quick to call back. Thanks to Gustafson, Green Energy Group got calls from companies and other contacts all over the U.S. “I haven’t worked with anyone that could come close to his ability,” he said.

Gustafson wasn’t just good in the academic field—he was also very skilled mechanically. He had rebuilt many motorized vehicles, including race cars and snowmobiles. “He was a person of great knowledge of many subjects,” Helgaas said.

Gustafson spoke to EPM for a feature-length story about energy beets-to-ethanol, which was published in the May issue. He was also scheduled to speak at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, set for June 4-7 in Minneapolis. Tim Portz, program director for BBI International, said he would be greatly missed. “Dr. Gustafson was a leading researcher in the ethanol industry and his contributions to our conferences were always eagerly anticipated by our attendees,” he said. “Our thoughts are with Dr. Gustafson’s family, his colleagues and students at North Dakota State University and, of course, his many friends in the agriculture and ethanol space.”