by Cheryl Anderson
DTN Staff Reporter
A new ethanol plant in North Dakota not only produces ethanol at less cost but is also saving money on drying distillers grains.
The ethanol plant was built across the road from a coal-fired electric power plant, which supplies steam to the ethanol plant via underground pipes, according to Jeff Zueger, chief operating officer of the new Dakota Spirit AgEnergy ethanol plant in Spiritwood, North Dakota.
The plant was developed and is about 78% owned by Minnesota cooperative power company Great River Energy.
"Instead of having a boiler and making steam with natural gas or other power, we take the waste steam off the turbine and use that for the ethanol production process," he said.
Zueger said the company has two plants that operate in the same manner. The new plant in Spiritwood has been in operation since June, while the other plant, Blue Flint Ethanol in Underwood, North Dakota, has been in operation since 2007.
"It's pretty unique. We take steam that usually would be waste and use it directly in the process for energy, then send it back," he said.
The technology lessens the cost of building the operation, as the company doesn't have to build or operate a boiler. Also, the company doesn't have to have water treatment to clean water for the boiler.
The plant also has less environmental impact than traditional ethanol plants. The technology gives the company much lower carbon intensity scores, since they are using steam that was previously unusable.
The plant will produce an estimated 65 million gallons of ethanol annually, producing about 20% of the fuel used in North Dakota, Zueger said. To reach its targeted western and southern markets, the plant will fill one unit train of 100 tank cars approximately every 18 to 20 days.
The plant will produce about 198,000 tons of distillers grains and 6,900 tons of industrial corn oil to be used in both livestock feed and bio-diesel, Zueger said. The company will have the ability to make modified and fully dried distillers grains.
"What's unique is that we have steam tube dryers. So our distillers grains are not dried with gas combustible systems, but steam in a thermal energy dryer," Zueger said. "Only a handful of plants have steam tube drying."
The steam tubes allow the company to dry distillers grains at a lower cost.
"This was one of our objectives, to be more competitive from an energy standpoint," Zueger said.
He pointed out steam tube technology allows distillers grains to be dried at a lower temperature than traditional dryers. This allows for a more consistent, high quality product.
Over-drying can damage the quality of distillers grains, making them darker in color and giving them a burnt odor. In addition, too much heat can damage the protein in the distillers and reduce how much animals can utilize that protein. Dark brown distillers grains also have less value in the eyes of buyers, who prefer the typical yellow golden color.
With the production of corn oil, the company's distillers grains will be considered, de-oiled or low-oil, as are the majority of distillers grains currently being produced. While traditional distillers grains range between 10% to 15% oil, Dakota Spirit AgEnergy's distillers will have a fat guarantee around 8%. This is a little higher than some low-oil distillers grains being produced, which can be as low as about 4%, Zueger said.
The company will be shipping its distillers grains by rail, as Zueler said there is currently not enough demand locally for all the plant will produce.
Gavilon, a third party merchandiser, will market all of Dakota Spirit AgEnergy's distillers grains, but the company will market within North Dakota itself, as Zueger said he feels it is important to work with local buyers directly.
Although the company has only shipped one unit train of distillers grains so far, he said they have a pretty good sense of where the distillers grains will move to.
"We will most likely move our distillers to the beef industry, but we could move into any appropriate downstream market," he said. "It's a pretty exciting time for us."
Cheryl Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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