Ethanol Plant Thriving

North Dakota farmers produced about 280 million bushels of Corn last year.

More than 4OVo of that total is converted into ethanol for fuel at five ethanol plants in the state. Two of those plants are in western North Dakota – Red Trail in Richardton and Blue Flint near Underwood.

Sitting in the heart of Mclean County, the Blue Flint Ethanol plant is hardly in the heart of corn country. But its proximity to coal Creek Station allows it to draw waste steam from the power plant to operate the ethanol plant. “We’re the only plant that directly utilizes a steam from a power plant. We’re the only one to operate that way.”

Blue Flint Manager Jeff Zuger says the economy of this location more than makes up for the cost of shipping in corn to turn into ethanol.”Our goal has been and is to be the lowest production cost facility in the US and we’ve got a lot of information that tells us we’re certainly running in that area.”

Zuger has been in charge of the Blue Flint plant since its design back in 2005. And while he says he knew little about the ethanol industry then, he’s learned a lot. You can see he’s a supporter by the license plate in his office. But he says the current profitable cycle for ethanol has come only after surviving a glut of ethanol production that collapsed prices.”We’ve really passed through that era and we’re in a time period where we’re in a healthy state. Supply and demand are in balance.”

The plant brings about two-thirds of its corn from southeast North Dakota. But he says the other one-third from local sources – like this truck – is actually growing, thanks to the interest in growing com that ethanol has sparked. “When we first started the plant there was not a lot of corn production in this area, there was not a lot of irrigation in this area or dry-land corn.”

Zuger says using a food – corn – to make fuel has actually helped the food-corn industry. He says it has pushed prices higher for producers and spurred new research into better varieties, expanded irrigation to create new acreages for corn, and helped add value to North Dakota-grown corn. “The corn traditionally in ND was exported to the Pacific northwest. This provides an opportunity for the corn to be used in state.”

He says congressional mandates for more renewable fuels mean that much more ethanol will be used in the coming years- but he says most of the growth will come from new sources like cellulosic and biomass that don’t consume food. All in all, Zuger says it’s an honor to be a part of an industry that offers many positives. “Be part of an industry that’s creating a renewable energy, that helps increase our economic progress as a country and locally, as well as the environmental positive impacts we have.”