Three ethanol projects receive Nebraska funding

By Ryan C. Christiansen | January 12, 2009
Web exclusive posted Jan. 20, 2009, at 4:04 p.m. CST

The Nebraska Rural Development Commission of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development has awarded $92,675 in Value-Added Agriculture fund grants for three ethanol-related projects.

Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems in Oakland, Neb., in partnership with Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb., has been awarded $8,000 to purchase technical reference materials and market the Renewable Energy Training & Workshop Program. The program provides college students the opportunity to receive hands-on training with renewable energy production systems at the NRES Energy Farm in Lyons, Neb., and conducts workshops and training seminars for agricultural producers and the general public.

"The students come out and spend a summer in Nebraska, live off-grid, and learn the technologies," said Robert Byrnes, president of NRES. "The model that we will use this summer is to give them that immersion while on the off-grid farm, and then we're going to set up workshops and seminars all over the state during the second half of the summer, going to county fairs, doing displays and public awareness." Byrnes said nominal admission fees to the workshops and seminars help to fund the internships.

NRES interns will have the opportunity this summer to learn from another project that received a Value-Added Agriculture fund grant. Byrnes is a partner with Springfield, Neb.-based Tighe Biodiesel, which received a $75,000 grant to build a farm-scale biorefinery in Springfield. The biorefinery, which will be owned by a cooperative, will produce both ethanol and biodiesel for use by cooperative members, Byrnes said. The biorefinery's distillation system was purchased at auction from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Agricultural Research & Development Center. "We were able to get a set of distillation columns out of the university research center at auction for a song," Byrnes said. "They were making sweet sorghum ethanol 25 years ago in this research center. They did all of this groundbreaking research and then the energy crisis went away and the thing has been locked up for 25 years collecting dust."

Byrnes said the biorefinery will produce biogas in addition to biofuels. "An anaerobic digester is an integral part of the farm energy loop that we're working on up there," he said, "because, especially with on-farm biodiesel or ethanol, you have a wash—a water stream—that needs to be dealt with. What do you do with [that] on the farm? Well, with the digester it's a feedstock now—that is your water treatment. Let the bugs sort it out (and) recover that energy."

Byrnes said the anaerobic digester is based on a no-power, two-stage farm-scale design by Ram Bux Singh from the Gobar Gas Institute in India. "I go to India quite a bit for renewable energy equipment, oilseed presses, and stuff like that," Byrnes said. "They have a lot of experience and for our small-farm energy efforts, the Indian model is very good. There are a lot of resources there because they have always been small and decentralized."

Byrnes is also a partner in the Nebraska Green Fuels Co-op. in Lyons, Neb., a renewable fuels station that sells biodiesel and E85, as well as offers an E85 vehicle conversion service. Byrnes said the Springfield biorefinery will someday offer a Nebraska Green Fuels branch fueling station. "The vision is to be able to have a car drive up and get fuel off the farm," he said.

A third Value-Added Agriculture grant was awarded to Energy Grains LLC of Kearney, Neb. The company has been awarded $9,675 to continue development of an integrated closed-loop supply chain for ethanol producers. According to Paul Kenney, chairman of Energy Grains, the project's goal is to create an alliance between ethanol producers and farmers to procure grain directly from on-the-farm grain supplies, eliminating costs associated with middleman retail grain sources.