Dakota Spirit breaks ground on 65 MMgy corn-ethanol plant in N.D.

By Susanne Retka Schill | August 09, 2013

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the first corn-ethanol plant to begin construction in five years took place Friday, Aug. 9. The 65 MMgy Dakota Spirit AgEnergy LLC is being co-located next to Great River Energy’s Spiritwood Station in Spiritwood, N.D. The $155 million project is spearheaded by Midwest AgEnergy Group, owned by Great River Energy. The group also owns Blue Flint Ethanol, a 65 MMgy ethanol plant near Underwood, N.D., also co-located with a power plant. “Dakota Spirit AgEnergy creates value at the intersection between agriculture and energy,” said Greg Ridderbusch, president, Midwest AgEnergy Group.

The plant is expected to purchase 23 million bushels of corn annually. In addition to ethanol, the facility will produce about 6,900 tons of fuel-grade corn oil and about 198,000 tons of distillers grains. “Modern biorefineries like Dakota Spirit AgEnergy economically produce renewable fuel and high value feed products,” added Jeff Zueger, chief operating officer, Midwest AgEnergy Group.

N.D. Gov. Jack Dalrymple was among a long list of state and local dignitaries at the groundbreaking ceremonies. "This is a great visionary project and a great investment for the State of North Dakota," he said, "adding value to North Dakota products and building on the strengths of the North Dakota economy, namely agriculture and energy." He added that when the ethanol plant came on line where he farms in Casselton, N.D., it added 25 cents to the basis. "That value added to the logistics is permanent," he said, and for the agriculture community around Dakota Spirit will mean $6 million a year direct added income.

The power cooperative's GPR’s Spiritwood Station will provide process steam to the biorefinery. The combined heat and power configuration is necessary for the plant’s ethanol production to qualify under the renewable fuels standard (RFS). "This is the first corn-based ethanol plant since 2007 to meet the carbon reduction goals," Ridderbusch pointed out. "That's what makes Dakota Spirit unique."

While existing corn starch plants and those under construction by a given date in 2008 were grandfathered into the RFS in 2007, any new plants must demonstrate greenhouse gas reductions of at least 20 percent compared to the baseline gasoline emissions. Earlier this year, Dakota Spirit received notification from the U.S. EPA that the agency agreed the plant would meet the target, due to the sharing of the greenhouse gas allocation between the coal-fired electrical generation and the ethanol production. "

The total cost of the project is $155 million. Near term activities include engineering and site preparation with full construction operations to be underway by fall. Commercial operation is scheduled for the first quarter of 2015. One option to be considered in the future is bolt-on cellulosic ethanol capacity.

Two St. Paul, Minn.-based companies are the design/build team on the project, Karges-Faulconbridge Inc. and McGough Construction Co. Inc. The team built a 50 MMgy plant for Heartland Corn Products that doubled the production of the Winthrop, Minn., plant. Karges-Faulconbridge has worked as process engineering consultants, helping ethanol producers improve efficiency. McGough built GRE’s Maple Grove, Minn., headquarters, incorporating a number of energy savings that landed a LEED platinum rating, including geothermal HVAC and the recycling of GRE industrial byproducts in the concrete mix and carpet backing.

A look at the construction activity tracked by Ethanol Producer Magazine shows the last first-generation, corn-ethanol plants broke ground in 2008, including Bionol Clearfield LLC (now Pennsylvania Grain Processing LLC) in Clearfield, Pa., and two Abengoa Bioenergy plants, one in Mt. Vernon, Ind., and the other in Madison, Ill. The last first-generation plant broke ground in the fall of 2008 in Hopewell, Va., but Appomattox Bioenergy LLC, which intended to use barley, never fully completed commissioning and ultimately was purchased by a company from the United Kingdom that is expected to dismantle the plant. Most future expansion in ethanol capacity in the United States is expected to come from the second-generation, cellulosic ethanol plants now being built or plants using first-generation technologies with feedstocks such as energy beets, sweet sorghum or sugarcane.