The Buzz

Ag-based renewable energy continues to gain momentum.

It seems in recent weeks as if The Buzz has undertaken a decidedly renewable energy slant. That's because the two are inexplicably linked, with grain-based ethanol production on the rise, biodiesel based on soybean, canola and sunflower oil picking up steam and the relentless pursuit of economically feasible cellulose-based ethanol.

Like it or not, renewable fuels and energy represent great hope for farmers and the agriculture industry. Here are a few items of interest from the past few weeks about all of the above, and more:

The University of Missouri is testing the use of corn cobs as a heating source in its power plant system. Heat value of corn cobs runs about 75% of the coal the university burns. The corn cobs would be mixed with coal, making up about 5% of the University's consumption by mass, according to the power plant superintendent…

If the university were to use corn cobs at the 5% rate, that would require the use of cobs from about 16,000 acres of harvested Missouri cropland…

More biomass-based energy: scientists from USDA's Agricultural Research Service are collaborating with the Western Research Institute in Laramie, Wyo., to learn how to convert straw from the grass seed industry, into synthetic gas that can produce electricity or liquid fuel…

The grass seed industry in the Pacific Northwest produces millions of tons of straw each year, with a portion of that used as mulch for conservation. Disposal of the remainder is difficult, as burning is illegal…

The researchers are building a prototype reactor that reduces straw to char (small particles of carbon and residue), then converts that into a mixture of vaporized gases to produce the gas…

The conversion rate is expected to be 60 gallons of fuel per ton of straw, researchers estimate…

Kansas State University's own Bikram Gill, whose known for his work in wheat plant pathology, received a $700,000 grant from USDA a few months ago to study how wheat leaves and stems can be converted to energy…

Gill, who leads a worldwide effort to sequence the wheat genome, will use the information from that project to determine efficient methods of breaking down wheat-based plant matter into the sugars used to make ethanol…

An Iowa company, Renewable Energy Group, is jumping into biodiesel in a big way. The Ralston-based company plans to build a dozen biodiesel refineries in the U.S. by 2010, creating an estimated 500 jobs by doing so…

Renewable Energy Group plans to build five of the plants in Iowa, the rest at to-be-determined locations throughout the Midwest. The plants will vary in size from 30 million gallons to 60 million gallons per year, according to the company…

Speaking of biodiesel, Arctic Cat has developed the all-terrain vehicle industry's first twin-cylinder diesel ATV. The company encourages the use of a biodiesel blend up to B20 (20% biodiesel; 80% diesel) in these ATVs…

The Arctic Cat ATVs are equipped with a 700cc Lombardini diesel engine. The company tested these motors rigorously, finding no differences in engine or component wear and no degradation of the fuel system…

The machine, "…says to farmers, 'Here's a vehicle for you that runs on the very stuff you grow.' That's a tremendous attribute," says Ole Tweet, vice president of new product development for Arctic Cat...

What's a renewable energy "Buzz" without a word or two on grain-based ethanol? As more huge companies venture into the ethanol business, the industry appears to be bypassing the 25-, 30- even 50-million gallon per year, farmer-owned ethanol plants…

A National Corn Growers Association study concurs. The study, "Economic Impacts on the Farm Community of Cooperative Ownership of Ethanol Production," concludes that farmer-owned cooperative ethanol plants are community members and thus, more likely to contribute a greater percentage of revenue to the local economy than absentee-owned plants…

Both types of ownership have massive economic impact on communities in which they are located. But farmer-owned plants are more likely to have accounting, administrative and marketing functions performed by locals rather than at a company's headquarters. Also, farmer-owners receive the dividends from a profitable enterprise and are more likely to spend those dollars close to home…

The study is online at www.ncga.com.

TAGS: USDA
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