Nebraska's corn fields, already producing grain for the state's corn-based ethanol plants, could soon provide corn stalks for the state's first cellulosic plant.
A newly formed Kearney-based company, Energy Grains Biomass, has entered into an agreement with NextStep Biofuels Inc., a cellulosic ethanol development company, to harvest, store and deliver crop biomass to a central Nebraska plant, a site for which has not been determined.
NextStep would build the plant, which would need crop biomass from 83,000 acres. An EGB news release indicated the operation would also seek other crop residues, including soybean stubble.
"We are focusing on irrigated corn acres because of the heavier residue produced and the cover that would remain," says Paul Kenney, an Amherst farmer and EGB president.
Kenney says the proposed 20-million-gallon-per-year plant could be operational by 2012 with crop residue harvesting beginning in 2011.
Another partner in the project is KAAPA Cooperative, a Kearney-based, farmer-owned ag development group formed 13 years ago. KAAPA Cooperative, in an arrangement with EGB, has begun soliciting 7-year crop residue contracts from not only its members but other farmers through June 15. The cooperative, in return for securing the contracts, will receive a 3% ownership stake in the processing plant, says Marge Lauer, the cooperative's executive director. "Dividends (from that 3% ownership) will flow to our KAAPA Cooperative members," she says.
The cooperative will hold informational meetings this month, launch a Web site in the coming days and set up to "Producer-to-Producer Hotline" phone numbers so interested farmers can contact KAAPA board members to learn about the project. Hotline numbers will appear on the Web site, at www.contractyourstover.com, when it's up and running.
The first meeting dates this month are March 18 and 19 at Heritage Bank, north location, in Kearney, with two sessions each day, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Other meetings are March 23, Babel Barn, Wood River; March 24, Leadership Center, Aurora; March 25, Midtown Holiday Inn, Grand Island; and March 26, Country Kitchen, York. More will be scheduled in April.
Kenney says farmers would be paid $15 a ton, with about 3 tons per acre harvested. He says harvesting crews would remove about three-fifths of the cornstalks in a field.
EGB, as the crop residue supplier, would need 11 harvesting crews, each of which would consist of a tractor, baler and other equipment. Trucks to transport the biomass will be contracted locally.
The biomass will arrive either as bulk crop residues, if close enough to the facility, or as pellets, according to Kenney. Two outlying processing facilities would convert the biomass to pellets, he said.
Kenney said the project would employ about 25 full-time workers and another 25 seasonal workers in the harvesting crews and in operating two collection sites.
The ethanol plant would be in the middle.
Kenney said that the specific cellulosic technology has not been selected. "Some three or four technology platforms are being considered."