Midwest Biogas to use ethanol byproducts, animal waste

By Anna Austin
Minnesota-based Midwest Biogas LLC is greeting the new year with plans to construct a biogas plant in northern Iowa, a project that will mark the company's renewable energy debut.

Plans are to break ground at the Albert City, Iowa, location in early 2010, said Midwest Biogas President Nick Nelson. Buena Vista BioEnergy will be located near and utilize byproducts from an ethanol plant, as well as waste materials from a nearby egg producer, to produce biomethane, electricity and fertilizer. "In essence we will be getting three types of renewable energy-ethanol, biomethane and electricity-from one crop of corn, and we are able to return most of the nutrients back to the farm for the next crop," Nelson said.

Nelson told Biomass Magazine that because of the size of the project, which is currently estimated to be about $120 million, that it will be completed in phases. The first phase is anticipated to begin operations in early 2011 and the entire project will be online some time in 2012. According to Nelson, when complete these plants will produce about three times as much biomethane as the largest plant in the world in Gustrow, Germany, a location which Nelson said he toured in November during a due diligence study of the company's biogas upgrading technology.

The site for Buena Vista BioEnergy was chosen because of its close proximity to feedstock sources. "Our goal is to reduce the amount of transportation involved as much as possible," Nelson said. Midwest Biogas will be responsible for the transportation of the feedstocks to its plants to ensure that it's done safely and cleanly. "When you're handling materials like swine manure, you want to make sure that these are transported in sealed tanks and that they are stored properly on site for the shortest period of time possible," he explained. Midwest Biogas will employ a truck washing mechanism to clean every transport as it is exiting the plant to prevent the spread of any diseases. "That's a big concern with farmers," Nelson said. "This way, we ensure that nothing will be passed from farm to farm."

According to Nelson, Midwest has plans to build several similar plants across the corn belt using products such as stillage from ethanol plants, corn husks and other crop residues from local farms, poultry, swine, dairy and beef manures as well as grain milling, food processing and meat packing waste streams. He added that it's also very important to get the first plant on line to show how well Midwest Biogas's business model works, and that it can be successfully implemented in the U.S. "Midwest has a very dedicated team that is focused on doing this right, and we're looking forward to having many successful plants with the first two being Buena Vista BioEnergy and Welcome BioEnergy in Welcome, Minn.," he said.