FEW tour attendees treated to diverse learning experience

By Kris Bevill | June 08, 2012

The International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo industry tour, held June 7 in Minneapolis, offered attendees a diverse look at some of the many aspects of ethanol production, including oil extraction, rail safety and advanced feedstock development.

Crown Iron Works Co. has been operating a pilot-scale oil extraction facility in Minneapolis since 2003 and has been researching corn oil separation processes there since approximately 2004. The tour group, which consisted of ethanol producers, researchers and other industry stakeholders from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Thailand, Chile and Argentina, was given an in-depth look at Crown Iron Works entire pilot facility, including the preparation room, the extractor building and the lab. Crown Iron Works uses its pilot facility to conduct feasibility tests for clients interested in commercial-scale oil extraction. Over the past several years, the facility has been used to test 47 solvents and more than 300 feedstocks, including such oddities as refined seal oil and broccoli. The plant has also run testing on distillers grains, algae, and of course corn. Clients pay $9,500 per eight-hour day for the feasibility studies and are required to provide the feedstock and solvents for testing. The total project cost amounts to about $80,000 or more, according to Chas Teeter, research and development product sales manager, but the cost is credited back to customers who build a plant using Crown Iron Works’ extraction equipment. Interest in oil extraction has been steady and Teeter said the pilot facility is operated about 80 percent of the year. The team of Crown Iron Works researchers is currently preparing for a six-month test to study the feasibility of converting wood to cellulosic ethanol.

From Crown Iron Works, the tour group traveled to Minneapolis rail yard to learn more about the safety precautions in loading and handling ethanol tank cars. Mike Ball, manager of hazardous materials and dangerous goods for Canadian Pacific Railway, provided the group with an energetic description of various user errors that occur when handling tank cars. According to the Association of American Railroads, ethanol is involved in more non-accident releases than any other commodity. Ball said that ethanol plant managers are not usually equipped to properly address tank car problems, and therefore he strongly suggests that ethanol producers build relationships with railroad companies and railroad engineering groups who are better able to fix issues and offer advice on how to avoid future unintended releases. The TRANSCaer (Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response) organization, a group focused on assisting communities in preparing for and responding to hazardous material incidents, also had a trailer onsite for tour attendees to explore.

The group’s final stop was in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee to learn how Betaseed Inc. is developing energy beets as an advanced biofuel feedstock. The company has successfully planted energy beet plots in a wide range of climates, from Alaska to Florida. The group was given a field tour to see how the company conducts disease research and also visited the greenhouse area, where workers spend tedious hours manually breeding the plants.