Farmers Looking at On-Farm Ethanol Plants

  • Tuesday, 31 January 2017 15:29

Illinois Farmer Today

January 28, 2017

By Nat Williams

A handful of farmers are not just raising the crops that can be used as biofuels. They’re also working on producing the fuel itself.

A Minnesota-based company is in the developmental stage of offering small-scale production of ethanol and other end-products right on the farm. Mark Gaalswyk of Easy Energy Systems describes the process by using a popular toy as an analogy.

“It’s a Lego concept,” Gaalswyk told farmers at the Family Farms group annual winter conference here. “There are different parts of the process. If one part becomes obsolete, you can replace it with another part.”

The company manufactures modules that can be linked to build “micro biorefineries” right on the farm. Feedstocks include corn, grain sorghum, sugar beets and unharvested waste products, such as fruits and vegetables.

“Long term, there is a lot of interest all over the world,” Gaalswyk said.

Jess Daily, who farms in Indiana, is among cooperators working with the company to build a factory on the farm. He is looking at using grain sorghum to manufacture bio-energy as well as n-butanol, a product with numerous uses, including pharmaceuticals, food additives and industrial solvents.

The Daily family is growing sorghum on marginal soils where corn is not a good option. He was sold on the idea after inspecting working models at Easy Energy’s headquarters.

“We got to see the plant and got to see the dedication. We were completely blown away by their ability and engineering skills,” he said. “At the end of the day, these guys know farming. They have an interaction can relate to what you’re doing every day. I told my dad this is a great opportunity.”

Gaalswyk said the Indiana project has promise.

“We’re working very closely with Jess and Daily Farms,” he said. “Once we get all of this to the point of making sense and coming close to starting that first plant, the next family team will come along. We’re working with Iowa State, and we’re looking for other projects, perhaps this year.”

Gaalswyk said the company’s engineers are testing 47 different feedstocks to determine feasibility of manufacturing various end-products. One project involving the manufacture of n-butanol is being tested on the Iowa farm of Harry Stine, founder of Stine Seeds. He said another project is being tested with cooperation of the Koch brothers, billionaire entrepreneurs and owners of Koch Industries.

Easy Energy is also working with Iowa State University on cellulosic technology. The company will soon begin building initial modules that convert feedstocks into sugar water and then into n-butanol.

“There is long-term interest all over the world,” Gaalswyk said.

Not surprisingly, building an ethanol plant — even a small one — is not cheap. It can take an investment of $20 million. But sales manager Tom Gallagher pointed out that a farmer can raise the money by a combination of sources that includes grants and leveraged money.

“If you’re interested, we’ll work with you on a financial plan, Gallagher said, adding that federal grants may be tapped. “Some testing will be required. As soon as the financials and the feedstocks make sense, we’ll help you put a business plan together, if you like.”

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