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Ethanol company tests new biomass

The Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company plant in Benson is taking a positive step toward finding an alternative energy source and providing more value to its producers.

Chippewa Valley is going back to the past to start reusing the old corn cob for a pioneer use -- energy.

A cornfield near Priam was harvested Wednesday for the traditional product -- corn -- plus the field's corn cobs. Chippewa Valley was running a harvest test of two different methods of corn cob harvesting to help identify the most efficient way to develop a biomass energy source.

Chippewa Valley has set a goal of utilizing biomass fuel to replace 75 to 90 percent of the natural gas it uses in its ethanol plant.

Corn cobs, a natural byproduct of corn harvesting, may have more value as a biomass source due to good energy content than the corn cobs provide in soil nutrients as corn stover.

Chippewa Valley is harvesting about 5,000 acres from its members as a research test. The cooperative's 980 owner-members raise more than 112,000 acres of corn.

This is another innovation by Chippewa Valley -- starting with its ethanol plant; then the co-op's Shaker's Original American Vodka in 2003, then Prairie, an organic, kosher, ultra-premium vodka in 2008; and now looking to use corn stover as a biomass energy source for its plant.