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Plans announced for nation's first "energy beet" biofuel plant in Red River Valley

A Fargo-based energy company is moving forward with plans to turn one of the Red River Valley's top crops - sugar beets - into efficient, lucra-tive biofuel.

Green Vision Group, the company behind the project, said Monday it's work-ing to build a demonstration plant to convert beets into ethanol. It would be the first such plant in the nation. No site has been identified yet for the project, which would cost about $5 million.

Eventually, the company hopes to see hundreds of thousands ethanol-producing beets, which are tailored for energy production rather than food use, grown in hundreds of thousands of acres in North Dakota and produced in plants across the state.

Green Vision president Maynard Helgaas said beets produce about twice as much ethanol per acre as corn, which currently dominates the ethanol market. Beet ethanol also uses less water than corn because beets are mostly water already, and the waste byproduct from beet conversion can be burned and used as a fertilizer.

The company said it hopes to have the first plant up and running by 2012. Commercial production of ethanol beets could start by late 2013 or early 2014.