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New Integrated Ethanol-Feedlot-Methane System Under Development in South Dakota
From Philip Lusk, Resource Development Associates, Washington, DC
If the results of an ongoing feasibility study turns out as envisioned, corn and beef cows will be converted into value-added products at an innovative agricultural processing complex in South Dakota. The new system, under development by PRIME (Pierre Renewable Integrated Meat & Energy) Technologies, LLC, will integrate an enclosed custom cattle feedlot, an anaerobic digester, and a modified ethanol unit.
The PRIME complex will be a “closed-loop” system that produces beef, fuel ethanol, methane, and biochemical fertilizers. Each of the component technologies proposed for use is well proven on a “stand-alone” basis. However, none have previously been combined to fully capture their economies of scope through process integration.
PRIME’s first generation complex will consist of an ethanol plant with a capacity of 15 million gallons of ethanol per year, an adjoining feed yard holding 25,000 head of cattle with a closed manure collection system, and an anaerobic digester. The anaerobic digester will produce methane for use by the ethanol plant and biochemical fertilizers for use by farmers. The PRIME complex has the opportunity to substantially reduce energy and material inputs.
The proposed concept is ideal for small rural communities. Using a co-op style management corporation, the complex relies on local crops as the feedstocks for the fuel ethanol plant and local ranchers will provide the feeder cattle. Corn by-products from ethanol production are used as enriched cattle feed in the form of wet distillers grains and solubles (WDGS) that can replace more than 40% of the corn feed presently used. The WDGS will be fed in the adjoining and enclosed cattle feedlot. The WDGS feed mixture will increase cattle growth rates and reduce the use of hormones and antibiotics in the feed ration, while producing a higher quality beef.
Other system benefits include a reduction in environmental pollutants such as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), pathogens, methane, ammonia, and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. Nutrient pollution will be decreased because nutrients will be captured for recycling as organic biochemical fertilizers. Preliminary estimates indicate that 16% less corn will be required by the integrated complex, which equivalently increases ethanol conversion efficiency from 2.6 gallons per bushel of corn to 3.1 gallons per bushel.
Despite the efforts of the research community to develop energy crops, corn remains the least- cost source of sugars for ethanol production today. However, the complex allows the use of emerging ethanol production technologies that convert the hemicellulosic fraction of agricultural residues (such as corn stover) into five-carbon sugars that can be fermented and distilled when it makes economic sense. The complex will benefit farmers and ranchers monetarily, as well as mitigate possible pollution problems. Moreover, rural economic development will benefit from the implicit multiplier effect resulting from the jobs directly created by implementing the proposed system.
PRIME officials recently announced that its project consortium is progressing on schedule to complete Phase II—a feasibility study—for the $40 million project. The agricultural processing complex will be located in Sully County, 15 miles north of Pierre, South Dakota, and will be one of the largest new operations of its kind in the state.
PRIME officials also recently confirmed the receipt of $800,000 in federal funding for the next phase of the project’s development. The funding provisions were contained in the final
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