‘Energy beets’ to power plant

The Green Vision Group recently announced that it hopes to build a $5 million sugarbeet-to-ethanol demonstration plant in North Dakota next year.

GVG officials say they expect to request some seed money for the plant from the North Dakota Legislature this session. Maynard Helgaas, GVG president, says using “energy beets” to produce ethanol would be profitable for the refiner and farmers.

Key Points

Group hopes to build a beet-to-ethanol demonstration plant.

The facility would cost $5 million and be completed in 2011.

An average gross return of $893 per acre is projected.


Farmers would gross an average $893 per acre on beets grown for ethanol, compared to $386 for corn and $292 for soybeans, according to North Dakota State University projections. Last year, GVG planted five energy beet test plots in Carrington, Hannaford, Oakes, Turtle Lake and Williston, N.D. The beets averaged 28 tons per acre on dryland and 40 tons on irrigated land.

Refiners would be able to make ethanol for approximately $1.50 per gallon, which is well below corn ethanol costs.

Solving political problems

Producing ethanol from beets would solve many of the political problems that critics have identified with making ethanol from corn. Beets produce twice as much ethanol per acre as corn. They require less nitrogen fertilizer than corn, and less water is used to produce a gallon of beets for ethanol than a gallon of corn for ethanol.

Beet ethanol has a smaller carbon footprint than corn ethanol. Much of the water used to grow beets is recovered in processing. Byproducts can generate as much as 70% of the plant’s power needs, and the ash left over from burning the byproduct is 33% potash, which can be applied to beet fields as fertilizer.

Beet ethanol would increase food production, not reduce it. Energy beets could be grown on land in North Dakota that’s currently underdeveloped, Helgaas says. By developing irrigation on such land and growing grain crops in rotation with beets, net food production would increase.

“Energy beets looks like a win-win,” Helgaas says.

GVG officials say they hope to eventually build 12 beet ethanol plants in North Dakota. Each plant would cost approximately $43 million and produce 20 million gallons of ethanol annually. Approximately 360,000 acres of beets would be needed to supply the plants. Farmers would also likely have an opportunity to invest in the plants.

“With a 35% to 40% return on investment, we believe this is a franchise-able project that will have as much impact on investors as farmers,” Helgaas says.

GVG officials have been involved in other ag development projects, including building a community-owned wind farm, and bringing a potato processing plant to central North Dakota.

sugarbeet -- lifting.tif

FUTURE FUEL? Sugarbeet harvest in the Red River Valley may spread across North Dakota with the introduction of “energy beets.”

This article published in the January, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.