Plainview, Minn. — City inspectors in Austin, Minn., were suspicious. The gas meter at one home didn’t register any natural gas use. Assuming the meter was faulty, they visited the home to inspect.
The culprit, it turned out, was Sue Kruger and her renewable fuels company. With her husband Tom, Sue operates Eagle Bio-Fuels from her southeast Minnesota farm, providing shelled corn, corn-wood blends and biomass-pellet blends in bags and bulk for home and business heating.
Business has been brisk for a venture that has only been around since August 2006. “We have about 70 retail customers and 16 dealers who market our products,” Kruger says. “Last year we marketed about 10,000 bushels of corn as fuel. It’s really catching on. I’m going about as fast as I can to keep up.”
Giving pellets a try
Months before launching Eagle Bio-Fuels, the Krugers kicked around the idea of marketing their corn and other ag products for fuel. At a local county fair, they heard encouraging comments from pellet-stove dealers and decided to give it a try.
With a background in marketing, Sue searched out stove and fireplace manufacturers and dealers. She sent letters and brochures telling companies about her products and delivery service. Those that called back, she visited. But she also wasn’t afraid to cold call dealers.
Besides direct marketing, the Krugers invested in targeted advertising, a website, and ads painted on their delivery trucks. Soon the Krugers’ business was growing.
Today Eagle Bio-Fuel’s customer base stretches from Mason City, Iowa to Wausau, Wis. to Bemidji, Minn.
The Krugers practice on their farm what they advocate to customers. An outdoor pellet stove not only heats their home, garage and a large storage building, it produces all the farm’s hot water.
Attention to detail
The Krugers know that not all fuels are equal. Each batch of shelled corn can produce varying results, depending on moisture and foreign matter. So the Krugers invested in state-of-the-art drying and grain- cleaning systems to deliver consistent 12- percent-moisture corn with no foreign matter.
“Clean, dry corn burns better and causes less wear and tear on the stove,” Sue says. “A lot of stoves say they can burn anything, but if you want them to last, good fuel is important.”
Clean corn is nature’s own pellet fuel. One bushel provides the Btu equivalent of 5 gallons of liquid propane, 3.5 gallons of fuel oil and 140-kilowatt hours of electricity.
Eagle Bio-Fuels also markets corn blended with hardwood pellets and with ag-based pellets in various
ratios. Sue says they have found that blended fuels produce fewer clinkers, or unburned kernels, and boost Btu output.
Eagle Bio-Fuels is working with some of the nation’s top stove manufacturers to evaluate which fuel blends work most efficiently in each stove model.
The small fuels company is “definitely paying attention to detail with their corn and fuel blends and in the work they’re doing with the stove manufacturers,” says Alan Doering who heads AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca. Doering provided fuel analysis for Eagle Bio-Fuels.
“They’ve made the commitment to this business and are finding a way to add value to their own corn.”
The Krugers say the fuel business keeps equipment, family members and employees busy during non-farming months. The corn and pellets are stored, blended and bagged on their Wabasha County farm.
But the venture means more to the family than just economic activity.
“We chose to use an eagle in our logo because the eagle symbolizes liberty,” Sue says. “By heating with clean corn-fuel blends, we make a step toward liberating ourselves from petroleum products.”
For more information on Eagle Bio-Fuels, visit www.eaglebio-fuels.com