One Farmer’s View of the Ethanol Issue

Friesland, WIA couple of weeks ago, I emailed Jerry Franz, father of Northfield resident and St. Olaf alumnus Scott Franz, and asked him to read through our blog posts on the proposed ethanol plant. Jerry owns a family farm in in Friesland, WI, and is one of six farmers who raised $28M to build an ethanol plant of which he is currently a Director. Jerry is also past Director of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Board and many other ag-related organizations. Following is his response:

Where to begin! Pimental is so out-of-date it is pathetic. He has been saying the same thing for twenty years. He was almost right in 1980! His sidekick formerly worked for Shell Oil.

As one example, it takes less than 20% as much electricity now per gallon than it did in 1980. His study and one other claim a negative energy balance. About fifteen studies claim a positive energy balance with an average of about 26% gain. The highest is 67% gain, by USDA. The biggest problem with Pimental is he assumes the whole corn kernel is consumed by ethanol fermentation when in fact only one-third is. One third of the kernel goes off as Carbon Dioxide (which the next crop reabsorbs) Some fermentation plants capture the CO2 for bottling, etc., one-third of the kernel passes through the fermentation and is sold to livestock feeders. It is called Distillers Dried Grain with solubles, an excellent high protein feed esp. for ruminant animals because it by-passes the rumin which makes it a more efficient source of protein!

Pimental’s other major error is in assuming that all corn is irrigated so he includes a huge energy cost for pumping water. In fact, probably less than 20% of the US corn crop is irrigated.

Ethanol reduces carbon monoxide, reduces benzene, a carcinogen, and using ethanol blends reduce green house gases.(this all according to EPA) Ethanol is not the perfect fuel but it sure beats buying from the Arabs and it is a great boost to rural economies and small rural towns.

Come to Friesland anytime for a tour and see for yourself how clean and efficient the process is.

Now, lest anyone forget to be civil in any replies or questions, please know that I will make Jerry aware of this post so he can make comments himself if he’s so inclined.


  1. Nick Benson said:

    I would like a phone number so I can talk to this gentleman at 7 in the morning.

    Also, he didn’t address water usage, which seems to be a major (and possibly valid) concern.

    December 11, 2006
  2. Holly Cairns said:

    Interesting post on the value of ethanol. Since we might soon be living near an ethanol plant, I would like to think about “best practice.” I would like to promote, build, use, offer incentives for, etc. the BEST alternative fuel source.

    For grass, corn, or soy: I wonder about the amount of crops we would need to grow in order to completely replace our non-renewable fuel sources? If the crops grown could only make a very small dent in overall fuel consumption shouldn’t we try to build something other than an ethanol plant?

    Also, I wonder what our local farmers think. I think many of them are just trying to make ends mean (just like a lot of us around here!).

    December 11, 2006
  3. Russ Brown said:

    The USDA (Shapouri, et al) report claims a 6% positive energy balance without the inferred energy credit for by-product DDGS (Dried Distiller’s Grain Solids). With the credit, claims have ranged from 26% to 67%, depending on the optimism of those making the assumptions.

    But DDGS is not an energy product; it is a cattle feed supplement. While it has an economic value, it is not a component of a valid energy balance. The claimed credit is based on the energy required to grow and process an equivalent amount of cattle feed supplement.

    The U.S. is consuming ~141.7 billion gallons of gasoline in 2006. 216.2 billion gallons of ethanol would be required to replace that much energy. However, the amount of fossil energy required to produce the ethanol must be subtracted from the gross value to calculate the net energy production. If the USDA’s 6% value were used as a basis, the gross amount of corn ethanol required would be 3590 billion gallons. Current production is about 7 billion gallons per year.

    There is not enough arable land in the United States to provide even 1% of our transportation energy, assuming that we would be willing to forgo food production. An ethanol fuel economy is a mirage, a creature of Federal subsidies and careless thinking.

    December 12, 2006
  4. Tad Patzek said:

    This farmer needs to learn how to spell Prof. Pimentel’s name. The sidekick has a name too. He is Prof. Tad Patzek, University of California at Berkeley.

    Also, this farmer needs to understand that although economists, farmers, and snake-oil salesmen have skillfully adopted the language of science, they are anything but scientists. For one, they do not understand the fundamental laws of science. All these laws are statements of impossibility: one cannot create or destroy mass-energy, one cannot travel faster than the speed of light; one cannot produce ethanol from corn or anything else without creating chemical wastes and destroying free energy of resources; it is impossible for an organism to live in an environment consisting of its waste; it is impossible to measure something without altering it, etc.

    Scientists work first on the proofs of existence. If something cannot exist, there is no reason to waste time, money, and resources to achieve it. In other words, the corn-ethanol perpetuum mobile does not exist no matter how hard the government economists play with the numbers and violate the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Dr. Shapouri’s analysis is a good example of such an approach. The 67% energy gain by USDA has been obtained by adding coproduct energy to the fossil energy outputs and subtracting it from the inputs. Only an economist, or an applicant for loan guarantees and government subsidies would use such arithmetic. A scientist cannot.

    December 12, 2006
  5. Jerry Franz said:

    Sorry about mispelling Prof. Pimentels name, I have seen it often enough, I must be mispronouncing it in my mind. I also have seen Prof. Patzek,s name more times than I care to remember.

    1. I do have a science degree but not at the doctorate level.
    2. Not all scientists reside at Berkley, Calif.
    I don’t believe all the studies done on energy balance were economists and politicians.
    3. I agree energy cannot be produced, but free solar energy can be captured by plants and if converted successfully and efficiently into usable form we have produced an economically useful product with more energy then we started with. My pickup just doesn’t run well when I stick an ear of corn into the gas tank. Gasoline on the other hand mines a finite source of energy and looses about 20% of the energy in the process. In the case of electricity, I am told that less than half of the energy mined reaches my house meter!
    Ethanol production is much more efficient than it was twenty years ago and will be much more efficient then it is now in ten or twenty years. It will be done by raising yields on corn, planting corn that is more drought tolerant, using less water, (very little is irrigated in the Midwest)corn that will produce some of its own nitrogen so less natural gas is used, corn whose starch is more easily fermented than current corn starch. In the meantime, MIT scientists have just developed a yeast that will produce double the amount of alcohol in 21 hours and tolerate higher sugar and alcohol content so it works harder before the “waste” kills the yeast and we collect it to feed to livestock. In our plant, there are no side waste products that need to be disposed of, no effluent going to sewage treatment plants (except from the bathrooms). All process water is recycled. Some cooling water leaves the site or evaporates.
    Professors at UofM are suggesting that more ethanol could be derived from an acre of prairie grasses than corn. Maybe, but talk is cheap even coming from professors. When it appears that the process is close to becoming economically viable I will be interested in committing acreage to grasses. First though we need cheap enzymes that will break down cellulose (we are a long way from that). We don’t want to use the processes that paper mills use with all their harsh chemicals. We need to solve the problem of transporting bulky biomass. What we really need, I believe, is a small processing unit to take right into the field or we will burn up all the fuel produced moving the mass around. We are probably years away from engineering something like that! We can haul 5 or 6 acres of shelled corn down the road with one semi. We would need six times as many trucks to haul the biomass from 6 acres. After all those considerations, I for one would not even be willing to strip my acreage of the biomass because of its value as soil organic matter and fertility.
    We need to develop alternative fuels now, not talk about possibilities years from now. When we get from the ivory tower to the ground I will be interested!
    Corn production per acre is going to continue to increase so if we are going to replace it we need to think in terms of where its production will be ten years from now, not compare to where it is now.
    I don’t believe anyone is suggesting that ethanol is the only answer but it is part of the solution to depending on the volatile Middle East for such a high percentage of our fuel. Brazil is becoming crude oil import independent. We should do the same, however we get it done.
    One oil company is working on producing butanol by fermentation which has more energy than ethanol, but it also needs a renewable feedstock and is just beginning to be looked at.

    Mr. Benson, I agree that water is an issue. We need to balance the downside with the benefits. I am told that a 40 million gallon ethanol plant uses less water that an eighteen hole golf course, maybe our priorities are in the wrong place. Our ethanol plant uses less water then falls on my cropland annually!
    Does Malt-O-Meal use water? Do they have any effluent? It is a good industry that provides jobs, right! Fortunately for us in the Midwest we hve adequate water so we can have crop high yields without pumping underground water. An acre of houses uses less water than an acre of most crops so we could consider covering all acres with houses!

    Mr. Brown, DDGS IS ENERGY! It produces beef, pork and chicken, plus eggs when fed to livestock. It is a product of solar energy converted to protein via chlorophyll as the catalyst. An ethanol plant concentrates the protein in corn by extracting the starch only!
    It is a very high protein feed that approaches the value of Soybean Oil Meal in quantity and quality.
    Some ethanol plants are considering burning it to replace some of the natural gas used.
    The latest proposals are to consider gasifying it at high temperatures and converting it directly to ethanol via a catalyist. This may also not be economical yet but trust our capitolist system to get it there! I just refuse to be a fatalist that thinks we can’t do anything about our oil dependance. Show me a better way, I’m listening!

    December 12, 2006
  6. Holly Cairns said:

    Thanks for your posts Mr. Franz. I see how you reply to Tad Patzek and speak of Pimentel. Now I wonder about your thoughts on David Tillman and his recent studies. Have you heard of him? HEre’s audio if you have time to listen:

    NPR audio (Tillman)

    Mr. Franz, You suggest R & D will help corn based ethanol to become more than a “drop in the bucket” answer to our fuel needs. That would be nice.

    But, why build a plant based on “what might be” when we could construct a wind farm or a new kind of alternative energy source generator? I’d even like to see (really useful) residential turbines. Perhaps turbines have their drawbacks and I am unaware of the drawbacks.

    Also, maybe you or someone else can answer this: Why choose Bridgewater? I live a few miles to the north, but still in the rural area. It strikes me that housing developments are popping up all over the place. We’re pretty close to the metro area, come to think of it.

    Why not build the plant further south in an area which has a minimum of 25 (something like that) mile radius of farmland? What will it be like if we have an ethanol plant in a largely developed area?

    Maybe the decision of “where to build” has to do with who pays for transportation of the corn and who pays for transportation of the ethanol… or something like that. Why Bridgewater?

    December 13, 2006
  7. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Mr. Franz,

    Sounds like your ethanol plant is farmer-owned and fairly small. You are among six farmer investors who raised $28 millon? The proposed plant here is $170 million investment. Ours would not be a farmer-owned plant. The main investor was said to be Ron Fagen, the builder, who plans this to be the showcase of corn ethanol plants of the Midwest.

    What is the output/yr (ours is 100 million gallons). Do you also have 5 miles of rail in a “balloon track” beside it? How many boxcars sit alongside yours?

    Alan Guebert is a farm newspaper columnist who tells it like it is. Have your read his columns on ethanol?

    S. Henriksen

    December 13, 2006
  8. Jerry Franz said:

    I am not for or against Bridgewater, I don;t even knkow where it is! In general I woould agree with you that a rural location is better but living next to an ethanol plant would be no better or worse than any other industry that uses a lot of trucks, such as a Walgreens distribution center for example.
    Ethanol plants need good roads, a good railroad and proximity to a major natural gas line if they are going to use natural gas for fuel!

    December 13, 2006
  9. Jerry Franz said:

    Mr. Henriksen:
    Our plant is 50 million and expanding to 80 in the next year. We have rail siding for about 80 cars.
    I never heard of Alan Guebert! I live in WI.
    J. Franz

    December 13, 2006
  10. Jerry Franz said:

    Thanks for address to MNPRadio, I listened to Prof. Tilmans comments. His conclusions on Prairie grasses sequestering massive amounts of carbon dioxide is astounding. Combine that with a Rand Corp. study that says Renewable Fuels is a more economical way to reduce carbon dioxide than more stringent regulations to reduce carbon dioxide (one third of which comes from autos) makes a lot of sense. Rand Corp doesn’t specifically address cellulosic sources. Global warming could actually be reversed if enough prairie grasses were planted according to those conclusions.
    Tilmans proposal would be a slow long term approach. We have seeded some filter strips on our farm and the seed is very expensive and scarce and also takes three years to get established so its source for cellulosic mass would not come quickly.
    On the upside, the new house Ag. Comm. chairman comes from MN. and furthermore the Senate Ag. Comm. Chairman will be from Iowa, and his favorite Title in the Farm Bill is the Conservation Title so Prof. Tilman should be able to reach some sympathetic ears!
    On the downside, at least one Govt. Agency, the Energy Depts, Energy Information Agency, is not very optimistic on the expansion of cellulosic ethanol. That agency expects no more than 300 million gallons of ethanol coming from cellulose by the year 2030 according to the article I read. Their projection is based mostly on expecting crude oil to trend down for the next five years. They are saying this will slow the development of alternate fuels!

    December 15, 2006
  11. Russ Brown said:

    The majority of public pronouncements on the viability of an ethanol fuel economy are short on facts and analysis.

    The December 8th NOW program on PBS provides a good example of this phenomenon.

    Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla was interviewed and made the following startling claim. He stated: “between 40-60 million acres of land could replace all of America’s gasoline needs and supply close to 200 billion gallons of ethanol”

    See: for the related text and a link to the sound file.

    The U.S. currently uses 141.7 billions of gasoline per year. Correcting for the lower heat of combustion of ethanol, one would need ~216 billion gallons of ethanol to replace the _gross_ amount of gasoline energy.

    Current USDA corn yields are about 160 bushels per acre.
    Current conversion of corn to ethanol is about 2.8 gallons per bushel.

    The combined yield is ~450 gallons per acre.

    Production of 216 billion gallons of ethanol would require ~480 million acres of farm land.

    Mr. Khosla’s hypothetical 60 million acres would produce ~27 billion gallons of ethanol.

    However, the production of 27 billion gallons of ethanol consumes energy and material from inputs of diesel, gasoline, liquid petroleum gas, natural gas, and coal. All are based on fossil hydrocarbon resources. The USDA paper (Shapouri et al, 2004) reports a net energy value of 1.06 (100 units of energy required to produce 106 units of energy).

    The net energy production rate would thus be 5.7% of the gross production.

    27E9 * 0.057 = 1.54 billion gallons (as ethanol)

    60 million acres would thus produce 1.54E9/216E9 of the demand, or 0.71%.

    Mr. Khosla’s “WAG” is wrong by a factor of 140 on a total energy balance basis.

    Shapouri also claimed an inferred coproduct energy credit for a _non-energy by-product_ (DDGS) by estimating how much energy would be required to produce an equivalent amount of livestock feed supplement. That assumes that the nation would want to use the aforementioned fossil hydrocarbon energy resources to produce that quantity of supplement, a questionable assumption at best. Let the cattle graze in pasture lands.

    Even if we used Shapouri’s coproduct assumption NEV of 1.67, the net* energy production would be 67/167ths, or 40.1% of the gross production.

    27E9 * 0.401 = 10.8 billion gallons

    Even using this most generous assumption, Mr. Khosla’s estimate would still be off by a factor of 20.

    BTW, if the coproduct were rubber noses or hula hoops, one could calculate the energy cost to produce them, too. However, I doubt that anyone would want to use enormous amounts of one-use-only fossil energy to produce them.

    December 15, 2006
  12. Justin said:

    READ THE TILMAN STUDY. 2.9% is the number he arrived for ethanol’s potential reduction of our gasoline consumption nation-wide. With all due respect, I trust him more than I trust anyone who has posted here. The guy did an amazing energy budgeting exercise… even includes the energy required to house, feed, transport the farmers who grow the corn.

    Here is the kicker: that 2.9% reduction via ethanol could occur ONLY IF WE USED EVERY GRAIN OF CORN CURRENTLY GROWN IN THE NATION. YOu know as well as I do, that that is not possible… so the 2.9% ticks down even further as we take corn to feed our livestock, put in our mouths and produce other corn-based materials and products.

    December 16, 2006
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Jerry Franz wrote:

    > I am told that a 40 million gallon ethanol plant uses less water that an eighteen hole golf course

    I would find it helpful to know how much water is actually used by a typical 18-hole golf course in southern Minnesota during an average season.

    If we had that info, then an apples-to-apples comparison could be made to an X million gallon ethanol plant during the same seasonal time period.

    Anyone want to dig for some stats on this?

    December 16, 2006
  14. Holly Cairns said:


    Mr. Franz– Thanks for listening to Tilman. I would like to see more data regarding large scale prairie grass conversion. Would it be good to build a facility specifically for converting prairie grass to ethanol?

    BTW– Can current ethanol plants use the same machinery to process grass? Or can the facility be modified so it can produce ethanol from prairie grass or another biomass substance (do current plants have to use corn??)

    Also, do you think we’ll be using corn for one reason or another despite scientific data regarding other biomass material?

    I love a good R & D challenge.

    Perhaps the facility which will be built near me might be too far along in the planning process to introduce prairie biomass technology… so maybe it’s a moot point.

    Mr Brown– what new alternative fuel source would you suggest? We know we need to do something, but what is the something? Should we build and improve? Or sit back and wait…

    December 17, 2006
  15. Jerry Franz said:

    I found one bit of information from USDA that the U.S. ethanol industry as a whole uses one to two percent of the water that all of agriculture uses but that at specific locations groundwater can be scarce. I have no specific info on golf courses.
    No to the answer of current ethanol plants using grass. We are years away from being able to use grass or other biomass for fermentation on an economical basis. I as a farmer would have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment to collect and deliver biomass to a plant. Thats just for starters. Enzymes used to break down starch from corn do not work on cellulose. The enzymes that do work on cellulose are very expensive and ways need to be DISCOVERED to produce them cheaply. There is no data on large scale use of biomass. Prof. Tilmans proposals are derived from calculations based on his research but noone has actually carried out his projections. Two plants are being built to try to produce ethanol from cellulose but they are experimental. Current plants can use almost any grain high in starch but corn is the most easily available in large quantities.
    I will respond to Mr. Browns comments tomorrow.

    December 17, 2006
  16. Jerry Franz said:

    Mr. Brown, contrary to your first sentence that projections are short on analysis, you are missing a whole lot of information that Vinod Khosla is basing his hopes on for the future of fuel supplies. All your efforts and calculations are for nought!
    Mr. Khosla bases only a small amount of his goal of 200 billion gallons of ethanol on fuel from grain!
    Most of the fuel would come from cellulosic ethanol: corn stalks, switchgrass, wood chips, sagebrush, paperwaste sludge, municipal solid waste and the energy in the cellulose of corn grain that currently passes through the process (DDGS). Prof. Tilman adds that prairie grass mixes would be an improvement over switchgrass.
    Wang of Argonne Labs has a model showing an 80% reduction of green house gases over gasoline with biomass fuel. Corn ethanol shows a 20 to 30% reduction.
    National Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a joint statement that Cellulosic ethanol has the potential to substantially reduce our consumption of gasoline, “It is at least as likely as hydrogen to be an energy carrier of choice for a sustainable transportation sector”.
    Cellulosic biomass is composed of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. The beauty of this approach is that the lignin can be burned to power the breakdown of cellulose and hemicellulose into fermentable sugars. Here is the rub-those are long chain polysaccharides that are not easily separated. Two companies have already reduced the cost of producing the needed enzymes about 30 fold. They are well on the way to solving the problem. The inexpensive enzymes used for starch fermentation are not suitable.
    There are other hurdles to overcome.
    Two companies have grants from the Dept. of Energy and are building plants to process the cellulose in DDGS. This process would greatly increase the yield from corn grain and also would reduce the volume of DDGS greatly while at the same time increasing its feed value.
    Mr. Larson, a research engineer at the Princeton Environmental Institute, says the lignin and protein co-products of biomass feedstock can significantly improve the economics of biorefining because the protein can go back to feeding livestock and the lignin fraction has an energy content similar to coal and can power the fermentation process and still have enough energy left over to generate some electricity.
    Reade Dechton of the Energy Futures Coalition says we are investing a piddling 30 or 40 million per year when we should be investing several billion over the next ten years to move this biorefining industry along. He says it is a national security issue.
    All the aforementioned brings me back to our plant which produces two revenue streams; ethanol and DDGS-two energy streams-one for livestock and one for fuel. Each stream can be assigned a part of the input cost of producing corn! I could even make a strong case that part of the input cost should be assigned to improving my cropland and making it more valuable! The massive amounts of biomass left on the ground improve tilth, water holding capacity and productivity for future crops!
    Mr. Khosla and others argue that we can combine fuel and protein feed from the same acres to a large extent by replacing other feed sources with combination crops and by raising fuel crops on acres not suited for feed and food!

    December 18, 2006
  17. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    It’s great to exchange thoughts here, but the general public is not yet engaged. Please condense your messages, pro or con, and send them as letters to the editor ASAP. Deadline for Wed NNews is today, Monday, at 5 pm.

    Don’t confuse the editor of Faribault Daily, Garrett Ebling, with Supervisor Gary Ebling of Bridgewater Township.

    I hope it is clear to everyone by now that the rail company, Progressive Rail out of Lakeville, is the real “Prairies to Power.” They have said they need an industry in place here to justify the planned upgrade of their track. The only industry they can locate at Comus Crossing in the ag zone of Bridgewater Township (without a rezoning) is an ethanol or biodiesel plant. Hence, the big push for the rail/ethanol combination–newspaper ads, mailings to residents, continuous pressure on my township supervisors, Dokmo Ford Ethanol Open House last weekend. What will be next??

    I agree with Griff in an early post that it puts them in a bad light they are not admitting this up front.

    S. Henriksen

    December 18, 2006
  18. Russ Brown said:

    Mr. Franz,

    Thank you for your interesting reply, i.e., the one that alluded my “missing a whole lot of information that Vinod Khosla is basing his hopes on for the future of fuel supplies”, as well as informing me that, “All your efforts and calculations are for nought!” You further stated, “Mr. Khosla bases only a small amount of his goal of 200 billion gallons of ethanol on fuel from grain.” and “Most of the fuel would come from cellulosic thanol: corn stalks, switchgrass, wood chips, sagebrush, paperwaste sludge, municipal solid waste and the energy in cellulose of corn grain that currently passes through the process (DDGS).

    In his interview (PBS, NOW, 12/08/06), Mr. Khosla stated, “Today we are starting with corn ethanol; its a great starting point” (time marker: 16:27). He then listed the “next stepping stone” as “greener ethanol”, and followed with “cellulosic ethanol”, “butanol”, and “xyz”.

    Note that the only quantitative information provided by Mr. Khosla was “that somewhere between 40 to 60 million acres of land could replace all of America’s gasoline needs and supply close to 200 billion gallons of ethanol”. In an interview with Grist magazine on the same day, Mr. Khosla mentioned, “…what would happen if we grew biofuels just on the 40 million acres or so of so-called ‘CRP lands’ where we don’t grow food”.

    Of course, the only available cropping and processing yields are based on the corn-ethanol system. The growing, harvesting, transportation, and processing of all the other candidate materials are speculative, to say the least. They are unknowns, as are the probabilities that, per Mr. Khosla (Grist), “farms would make actually make more money per acre of land that they owned”, and “would use less nitrogen, less water, less pollution, and “the production cost of ethanol would be far cheaper than the production cost of gasoline”. No quantitative basis for any of these assertions was provided.

    Using the most optimistic yields for corn growth and ethanol conversion, and the 60 million acres quoted above, Mr. Khosla’s production estimate was off by a factor of 8 for gross energy production, and by a factor of 140 for net energy production. Even if we doubled the available acreage to 120 million acres, net energy from corn-ethanol would still be 1/70th of our current consumption. Meeting our needs would seem to require a family of several miracles.

    A November 13, 2006 New York Times article by Miguel Helft described the proposed work of the Mascoma Corporation, which had received $30 million in financing from a group of “prominent venture capital investors”, among which is Khosla Ventures. Mascoma “plans to use some of the funds to begin building a pilot plant and eventually a commercial processor to produce cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from grass, wood, or various agricultural or forestry waste products. In a cautionary note, the article further stated, “Still, several technical hurdles remain before cellulosic ethanol can be produced cheaply, and there are no commercial cellulosic plants in the United States.”

    Absent both multiple proofs of principle and any quantitative performance data, Mr. Khosla’s assertions seem fragile, to say the least. As Leon Cooper said, “Predicting the future, as we all know, is risky. Predicting the evolution of new technology is downright hazardous.”

    December 18, 2006
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    The October 2006 Consumer Reports has a sizeable article on ethanol titled:

    The ethanol myth: Consumer Reports’ E85 tests show that you’ll get cleaner emissions but poorer fuel economy … if you can find it

    There are several subsections to the overview, including these that I found most relevant to our discussion here:

    * Hot topics in the ethanol debate
    * The future of ethanol

    Those sections require an online subscription, or you could, like I did, drive your car to the Northfield Public Library and read it there or make photocopies of it. Oops, I guess that was not an energy-efficient way to do it!

    The article may not be interesting to those familiar with the ethanol issue but for people like me who are just getting informed, I found it helpful and, contrary to the title of the piece, reasonably even-handed, ie, quotes from experts on both sides of the issue, including Prof. Ted Patzek who’s contributed to this discussion thread already.

    December 19, 2006
  20. Holly Cairns said:


    Griff, thanks for the suggested readings.

    I am looking forward to hearing reports about how well it worked to use the whole corn plant.

    Regarding the prairie grass alternative: This is my favorite idea.

    While we’re at it, though, what about practicality of land use– land that is too wet, too hilly, etc. now to use for food crops– won’t that land still be too wet, or too hilly?

    BTW– Who would “manage” the Dundas ethanol plant? Broin Companies of Sioux Falls? Is that company interested in R & D research? I would think they won’t be without incentives…

    December 20, 2006
  21. Jerry Franz said:

    Using prairie grasses will require large heavy equipment to gather and haul. In Northern climates it will will behard to get dry so it will store without getting moldy while waiting to be precessed. This will be hard to do if harvested in late fall as Prof. Tilman suggests.
    Broin is one of the companies building a plant to try and use biomass to produce ethanol. Don’t hold your breath. I would expect it to be a couple years or more before we hear the first word about results!
    I for one am skeptical that it can be done efficiently.

    December 20, 2006
  22. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I don’t see the message I posted earlier about the “Prairies to Power” radio ad running on KYMN 1080 AM this week, telling people to listen in at 9 am Satuday, Dec. 23. More pro-ethanol propaganda in an effort to gather support for the Advanced BioEnergy 100 million gallon corn ethanol plant on the 300-acre site on Cty Rd 8 of our township.

    Holly Cairns, you live in Bridgewater Township? Can’t find your name in phone book. We need to confer. The township moratorium keeps this project from proceeding to permitting, though they are working with MPCA to get their EAW ready and are working with DNR on pump tests of our wells and getting their water use permit.

    December 20, 2006
  23. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I live north of Bridgewater (Greenvale Township). You can find us under Cybyske Cairns, although I am not the one to confer with, probably…

    I believe we need to look at our energy resources/consumption and begin to make changes… but where is a good place to build an ethanol facility?

    For me, a new facility would bring more trains, traffic, and other things but I would not be in the same boat as someone who would immediately neighbor the facility.

    December 22, 2006
  24. Griff Wigley said:

    Holly wrote:

    > where is a good place to build an ethanol facility?

    Great question, Holly. I have no idea but maybe others do.

    December 23, 2006
  25. Stephanie Henriksen said:


    Ethanol plants are usually sited in a sparsely populated area. Adequate water supply should be a consideration. My neighbor knows a plumber who works in these plants. He says he has never worked in one that is plopped down in a heavily populated area like ours.

    Keep in mind that impacts to neighbors of a 100 million gallon plant are not yet known in Minnesota. None of them are up and running yet. Granite Falls put up a 50-million gallon one with a lot of hoopla a couple years ago. That was considered big. Groundwater has dropped off to the point they are going to take it from the river.

    The one for Janesville just cleared environmental review at MPCA. That one is 120 millon gallons, very close to the 125 size that requires a mandatory EIS (Environmental Impact Statement).


    December 24, 2006
  26. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Yes, on locallygrownnorthfield: it seems like there was previous mention of water usage and supply. I thought Mr. Franz was saying ethanol plants now reuse a lot of the water.

    But, for you, maybe me, and maybe anyone who uses the aquifer: there must be some impact of that much water usage. Perhaps shallow wells will have to be dug deeper, and the river used for water supply?

    Our well is only 50 ft deep. It’s yucky if I think about it. I don’t think we use the same aquifer as Dundas and Northfield…

    I taught a month in Chicago and we drank lake water (city water supply) and didn’t think much of it… maybe you’d like to elaborate on why it wouldn’t be good to use the river.

    You mentioned how populated it is around here and that makes me wonder why they picked Dundas. Location location location? Railroad, roads, pipeline, and now river… I wonder how many potential build spots there were.

    Just curious, how many other Minnesota ethanol plants are in the works?

    Well, happy Holidays! Ho ho ho. Happy 2007!

    December 25, 2006
  27. Stephanie Henriksen said:


    There was a presentation by MPCA “ethanol team” in November where Myrna Halbach said there were 16 ethanol plants in the state with 28 new or expanding ones in process. Too many coming in, too close together.

    The ABE plant here would draw almost 1000 gal/minute (over a million gallons a day). Even at that, we are told the Jordan aquifer has enough water. They are pump testing wells within 1-1/2 miles of the plant to see if water levels drop and pumps will have to be lowered. I personally object to ABE tampering with my well in advance of knowing if the township ordinance will allow for a plant at this location.

    It happens that the two supporters Progressive Rail is now claiming for their pro-ethanol effort called “Priaires to Power” are both township residents– Jim Machacek and Clancy Dokmo. That is not much support, when you consider we have almost 2000 residents.

    December 26, 2006
  28. Travis said:

    I would just like to make a few comments on Dave Tillman’s study. There are several holes in his study that need to be filled before we can decide that it will be a solution to our energy needs. One, the study was conducted on small, hand weeded plots. This needs to be done on a large scale basis before we can make the conclusion that large scale production is feasible. Two, he did not account for fertilizer additions that will most likely be necessary. They burned the plots in the study. Three, where is this marginal land that he talks about? Some of the numbers he used included areas in the tropics. Lastly, coproducts were used to produce energy for the cellulosic energy conversion however he used fossil fuels to produce the core ethanol. They compare more closely if corn coproducts are used to produce the energy. I think Tillman has a good idea, however, it should be examined more closely before we decide that it is a magical solution to our energy concerns.

    April 1, 2007
  29. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I will pass your questions on to Jason Hill. He lives in Northfield, you know, so there it might be possible to meet with him.

    I cannot seem to find my way back to the main ethanol conversations on this blog. A lot has been happening, with more coverage in NNews. Ron Nuebel’s class has chosen ethanol for the LWV 4th Monday at the Lib, April 23, 7 pm. It should draw a good crowd.

    NNews did not print the 5 nasty industrial projects Progressive Rail is threatening to bring to the site if the township ordinance does not allow ethanol as a permitted use. Linda Zawack listed them, I hear, in the Wednesday, April 18, issue. I haven’t yet seen the paper.

    Their claim that there are three Class 1 railroads using Comus Crossing turns out to be false.

    April 20, 2007

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