Brewster biodiesel overflows mandate

Brewster, Minn. — Fuel flowing from Minnesota’s newest and largest biodiesel refinery will increase Minnesota’s overall capacity to 60 million gallons per year. That’s well over the 8 million gallon requirement needed to trigger a state biodiesel mandate. As of September 29, every gallon of diesel sold in Minnesota must contain at least 2 percent biodiesel.

The Minnesota Soybean Processors, which has operated a soybean-crushing plant near Brewster for over a year, began producing biodiesel in early August. The MnSP refinery will use 50,000 bushels of soybeans a day and produce about 30 million gallons of fuel annually at full capacity. It will use about half the oil produced by MnSP’s soy-crushing facility.

“It’s been our dream as farmers to make our own fuel,” says Ron Obermoller, a Brewster farmer and MnSP board member. Established in 1999, MnSP boasts more than 2,500 members from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota.

Max Norris, AURI director of projects and technology, began working with the cooperative more than six years ago. “This is true value-added … producers are taking what they grow, processing it and moving it up the value chain — from soybeans to oil to biodiesel.”

MnSP joins two other Minnesota biodiesel processors: FUMPA Biofuels in Redwood Falls and SoyMor of Albert Lea. These “lead adopters” in biodiesel processing, Obermoller says, “have the greatest chance of making profits.” ¦

Transportation driving hydrogen-energy development: Alternative energy opportunities highlighted at northern Minnesota conference.

BY DAN LEMKE

Bemidji, Minn. — Hydrogen, the world’s most abundant element, could be the energy carrier of the future, said Rolf Nordstrom, director of the Upper Midwest Hydrogen Initiative of the Great Plains Institute. He spoke at the “Powering the Northland” conference in Bemidji in July. Nordstrom said that while the United States already produces about 9 million tons of hydrogen for oil refining, fertilizer production and the space program, the real hydrogen development driver could be transportation.

Foreign oil demand is rapidly increasing, Nordstrom said. “We import 55 percent of our oil today and that’s projected to increase to 70 percent by 2025. … There aren’t many alternatives to gasoline in the transportation sector.”

Hydrogen is in water, fossil fuels and all organic matter. Not only can it be generated from nonrenewable sources such as natural gas, coal and gasoline, but also from renewable sources such as biomass and ethanol. Besides transportation fuel, it is being developed for battery fuel cells. Hydrogen was just one of the topics highlighted at the energy conference, attended by more than 100 economic developers, government leaders and utility representatives from Northern Minnesota and North Dakota. The conference also addressed future energy demand, transportation biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, biomass gasification and power cogeneration.

The intent was to show “what’s possible in renewable energy and showcase projects that are already running or in development,” says Michael Sparby, AURI project director. “This is a step in bridging the gap between agriculture and industry through producer owned energy.”

The conference was sponsored by AURI and its Center for Producer-Owned Energy, Bemidji Bio, USDA, the Joint Economic Development Commission, Bemidji State University, U. S. Rep. Collin Peterson and the Department of Employment and Economic Development. ¦

SoyMor named Ag Innovator of the Year

Albert Lea, Minn. — Not many producer-owned cooperatives can boast opening two major facilities within a year. But SoyMor opened both a 25-million-gallon biodiesel refinery and lecithin fractionation facility this year, earning it the 2005 AURI “Ag Innovator of the Year” award. SoyMor’s work “is remarkable … a prime example of producer-driven innovation,” says Edgar Olson, AURI executive director. “They operate one of the largest biodiesel refineries in the country. They’re also using cutting edge technology to process soybean-derived lecithin into high-value components.”

The SoyMor cooperative based in Albert Lea has almost 700 members. In June, it unveiled its $25 million biodiesel plant, which will process about 18-million bushels of soybeans per year — or about 1,700 acres of soybeans per day — into renewable fuel.

Plant construction began last September and biodiesel production in July. The refinery is expected to employ 35 to 40 people with an annual payroll of more than $1 million.

Shortly after the refinery was built, SoyMor added a lecithin fractionation facility. Lecithin is a byproduct of soy-oil processing that can be refined and used as a powdered ingredient in cake mixes, cookies, crackers, rolls, breads, donuts and many instant products. Lecithin can also be found in beverages, margarines and even infant formulas.

The Ag Innovator of the Year award is presented annually to an AURI client demonstrating exceptional innovation in a product or process that has successfully entered the marketplace and uses significant amounts of agricultural commodities. The award was presented at a luncheon in Albert Lea on July 21.

“Value-added opportunities like this are important not only to the agricultural industry, but Minnesota’s overall economy,” Olson says. “SoyMor’s activities will have a major impact on farmers in the region, not just its members.”

SoyMor is the fourth recipient of AURI’s annual award that has honored Pet Care Systems of Detroit Lakes, Mississippi Topsoils of Cold Spring and Minnesota Soybean Processors of Brewster.