This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.
Ethanol Plant to Take Advantage of Waste Heat from Coal Plant
One common concern about ethanol production is the amount of energy required to produce each gallon of ethanol, often referred to as the energy balance of ethanol production. On March 14th, two companies announced an innovative approach to tip that balance further in favor of ethanol: Headwaters Incorporated has signed an agreement to build an ethanol plant next to Great River Energy's Coal Creek Station power plant near Underwood, North Dakota. The proposed facility would use the waste heat from the coal-fired power plant in place of a boiler, thus saving energy while reducing emissions from the ethanol plant. The plant will be able to produce 50 million gallons of ethanol per year, and the two companies plan to begin construction in the fall and start producing ethanol in fall 2006. The coal-heated ethanol facility is a natural fit for Headwaters, which is involved in coal combustion and the production of synthetic fuels from coal. See the press releases from Headwaters (PDF 57 KB) and Great River Energy. Download Acrobat Reader.
Another ethanol plant near Richardton, North Dakota, is taking a more direct route: the facility will burn lignite coal as its energy source. The plant's developer, Red Trail Energy LLC, claims the plant will produce 50 million gallons of ethanol per year with an energy savings of 70 percent compared to ethanol plants that use natural gas. Red Trail Energy recently raised sufficient cash to start the project and has begun site preparation for construction of the plant. See the Red Trail Energy Web site.
By the way, even existing ethanol plants produce about 67 percent more energy (embodied in the ethanol fuel) than they use in growing the corn, harvesting it, transporting it, and distilling it into ethanol, according to a September 2004 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and DOE. See the report, "The 2001 Net Energy Balance of Corn-Ethanol" (PDF 23 KB).