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So you want to build a biodiesel plant

A key requirement for the measure to take effect, however, is that Minnesota reach a biodiesel production capacity of eight million gallons by 2005. To help make that happen, AURI and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council have teamed up to produce a biodiesel handbook. They hired the Independent Biodiesel Feasibility Group, a Kansas City engineering consulting firm, to produce it.

Measuring tool

“This is really a tool for producers and communities to assess whether a biodiesel production facility is feasible for their situation,” says Michael Sparby, AURI project director in Morris. “This does not replace a site-specific study; instead this will help groups decide whether or not it’s worth spending the money to proceed with a study of their particular site.”

It instructs groups interested in building biodiesel plants on how to review factors such as feedstock sources, available production processes, base catalyst sources and markets.

“Feedstock sources, whether vegetable oil like soybean or canola, or animal fats like grease or rendered recycled oils, are about 75 to 80 percent of the production cost,” Sparby says. “So that is by far the largest factor.”

The handbook compares plant costs and the pros and cons of batch and continuous flow processes. Other issues addressed, such as building process flow, transportation, water treatment and employment, can help readers assess their local situation.

“We developed this as a screening tool to help groups make educated decisions,” says Rose Patzer, AURI chemist in Marshall. “We don’t have any production in the state right now, but we do have some large companies interested in building here. We’re trying to help smaller groups be players in this industry.”

Thinking ahead

“The provision — that Minnesota produce eight million gallons of biodiesel — will provide for rural development,” says Minnesota Soybean Growers President Kristin Weeks-Duncanson. “Biodiesel is definitely a part of the national energy plan, and I’m proud to represent Minnesota, the first state in the United States to require its use.”

While building biodiesel capacity is key to getting the industry started, increasing demand for the fuel is also vital.

“We are working to drive demand for biodiesel within the ag sector first,” says Scott Singlestad of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. “We want producers to use it and request it because the infrastructure for handling biodiesel needs to be established.”

As the state opens the door to the biodiesel industry, others are interested in following Minnesota’s lead. “This is the first time anything like this has been published,” Sparby says. “There’s extreme interest in Minnesota, among other states and even from countries like Australia, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.”

A series of presentations are scheduled throughout Minnesota to expand on the handbook’s information.