Colorado ACRE awards grants to biodiesel projects

By Ryan C. Christiansen | January 01, 2009
Web exclusive posted Jan. 7, 2009, at 11:24 a.m. CST

The Colorado Agricultural Value Added Development Board of the Colorado Department of Agriculture has awarded $150,000 in Advancing Colorado's Renewable Energy (ACRE) grants to organizations for biodiesel-related projects.

In partnership with Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (iCast) in Lakewood, Colo., was awarded $100,000 to assist with the implementation of two farm-scale oilseed crushing and biodiesel production facilities. According to Raphael Shay, sustainability project manager for iCast, one of the facilities will be at a feedlot in Stratton, Colo. "By producing meal with the oilseeds, we can actually make the project viable," Shay said. "The biodiesel in this case is the coproduct. The meal is really the main product.

"We're hoping to use this as a demonstration project so that other producers can see how it can be done," he said.

While growers in the region are more familiar with growing sunflowers, Shay said soybeans will be used as a feedstock, "just because sunflowers are very valuable in the market right now," he said. The facility is expected to be operational this summer and will produce 100,000 gallons of biodiesel per year, according to Shay. The glycerin byproduct might be diluted with wastewater and sprayed on to fields, he said, or might be used as a feed additive.

Shay said the location for the second facility has not been finalized, but it might be built at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Central Great Plains Research Station in Akron, Colo., where dryland canola and camelina oilseeds from test fields would be crushed to be used as a straight vegetable oil fuel or converted into biodiesel to be used in research center tractors. Students from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo., will design and build the oilseed fuel operations at the research center. He said students from the University of Denver are expected to work on a model business plan for farm-scale biodiesel production facilities for iCast.

"Speaking with producers, one of the problems that we found, quite a bit, is the very unstable price of fuel, which makes it really hard for them to plan whether their farms will be viable or not," Shay said. "By producing biodiesel with on-farm crops, we therefore isolate the producers from price variability."

During the past two years, iCast has been using a mobile biodiesel demonstration unit, dubbed Seeds Into Diesel (SID), to educate farmers and ranchers in Colorado and Wyoming about how to make biodiesel on the farm. Shay said the mobile SID unit includes a seed crusher and biodiesel reactor. "And now we actually have a few projects that are moving forward into the implementation phase," he added. Shay said he knows of at least two other farmers who have started their own farm-scale biodiesel production operations after visiting the SID mobile unit.

The Colorado State University Golden Plains Area Extension Service received the second ACRE grant that was awarded to a biodiesel-related project. A $50,000 research grant will be used to evaluate how energy crops should be rotated on northeastern Colorado dryland farms.

"What we're trying to do is take the potential renewable energy crops-whether its biodiesel, ethanol, or cellulosic sources-and see how they fit into a cropping sequence," said Alan Helm, area extension agent for CSU. "Which crops follow which best? Which crops don't follow? If we start growing some of these alternative-type crops, whether it's canola or camelina, where do they fit into our cropping systems?"

Helm said canola, camelina, and sunflower will be rotated with dryland corn, grain sorghum, forage sorghums, winter wheat, and other crops at the Central Great Plains Research Station to determine how well the crops grow in sequence. "Every crop will be planted into every residue," he said. Helm said the ACRE grant covers the first two years of the project, but he said additional grants will be sought to extend the project for an additional three to four years.
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