Colorado Welcomes US' Largest Corn-to-Ethanol Plant

As with all things ethanol, this is a conflicted tale, with surpising insights. Reported in the Greely Tribune this week: "When Great Western Ethanol's plant ... becomes operational..., its impact will stretch from Iowa to California. The plant, at full operation, ... will use 50 million bushels of corn annually to produce 140 million gallons of ethanol,"... the first production will be marketed "along the Front Range. Perhaps surprising to some, Weld County and the rest of the state don't grow enough corn to meet the plant's needs. The plant will have to import corn to produce ethanol from farms in Nebraska and Iowa".
"By-products will include a high-grade livestock feed and carbon dioxide". Conventional use of the word "byproduct" infers a potential to develop a market: e.g. there may be a possibility that the C02 is sold and not emitted to the air. That would seemingly cast the EtOH into a much more favorable light when examined over the product life cycle. Until, that is, one explores the possible uses. Dry ice comes to mind. As does pushing it down old oil wells to "develop them" for production increases. Have to think about that one for a bit.

"Last year, Colorado imported 47 million bushels of corn" (the proposed plant would double today's imports). Should the Western drought continue, and local corn production fall further than it already has, imported corn will need to cover the difference.

The choices boil down to: 1.) corn producing states build ethanol plants and capture a revenue stream and plant jobs before shipping the EtOH to the West; or, 2.) western EtOH consuming states import the corn and (virtually) the land and water that they lack to produce their own, taking both the tax revenue and the jobs from Midwest corn-belt states, along with the corn. Who can say which is better for the environment, or more sustainable?

"[Unnamed seed company], ... has been developing new varieties of fermentable corn that show a 2 percent to 4 percent increase in the amount of ethanol produced"... Although the cattle feed byproduct will likley not be usd by organic beef producers, the solid waste stream looks to be minimal. The fermentation advantage could be signficant for both the economics and the life cycle impacts: what's not up the stack is in the product or the bio-solids. All good news.

"The company ... offered area farmers who bought the seed corn incentives such as ... certificates for discounts on flexible fuel vehicles offered by GMC. Those vehicles feature engines that operate on regular, oxygenated fuel or they can run on E85 -- a fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline".

"Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate adopted two amendments to its Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill that will provide tax credits for building E85 fueling stations..".

"The plant will be a zero-discharge operation, which means there will be no need for a wastewater treatment plant". What else would we expect in a land where wars start over water?

by: John Laumer