Beets could expand ethanol production outside corn belt
OLIVIA -- Sugar beets could be used as the feedstock to expand ethanol production to areas outside of the Corn Belt. That's the goal of Heartland Renewable Energy of Muscatine, Iowa, and a Fargo, N.D.-based consulting company known as Green Vision Group.
Sugar beets can produce almost twice as much ethanol per acre as corn, according to Maynard Helgaas, president of Green Vision Group. He spoke to Renville County ProAg members Monday evening at their annual meeting in Olivia.
Helgaas said producing ethanol from sugar beets has a number of advantages. It takes less water to produce ethanol with sugar beets as compared to corn. And, the pulp that remains from using sugar beets can be dried and turned into a fuel to power about 70 percent of the ethanol production process, he said.
Helgaas said his company believes sugar beets for ethanol could be successfully grown in central North Dakota and along the Missouri River corridor with irrigation.
Heartland Renewable Energy is proposing the development of plants capable of producing 20 million gallons of ethanol per year. Each would need the annual sugar beet production from about 30,000 acres located within a 20-mile radius.
Helgaas said research has focused on using sugar beets that contain "genetic impurities.'' The beets produce an off-color sugar, and consequently are not used for food. Yet these same beets have the potential to be big in yield and high in sugar content, he said.
There are currently no plants producing ethanol from sugar beets, according to Helgaas.
He said he has not been able to find an engineering firm willing to guarantee the production of ethanol from sugar beets.
Initially, Helgaas said they had hoped to raise the venture capital needed to build a 20 million-gallon-a-year plant. They have been unable to do so and are working instead to raise $7 million to develop a demonstration plant.