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Spiritwood cellulosic ethanol plant first discussed in 2009

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The day after announcing plans to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in the Spiritwood Energy Park Association industrial park, the New Energy Spirit Biomass Refinery submitted a statement of interest to SEPA officials.

The planned facility would convert wheat straw and corn stalks, known as corn stover, into low-carbon ethanol. The announced plans call for groundbreaking in the second quarter of 2019 and completion of construction in early 2021.

Corry Shevlin, business development director of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., a partner in SEPA, said the announcement last week was not anticipated.

"It was as surprising for us to see that, as it was for everyone else," he said, referring to last week's announcement.

Shevlin said any action on leasing or selling land within SEPA to New Energy Spirit Biomass would have to be considered by the SEPA board of directors at a meeting likely to be held in the next month.

The statement of interest estimates the plant would employ 41 people on two shifts, with the night shift limited to approximately three people. The plant will require about 31 trucks per day and 300 rail cars per year.

Energy requirements include about 5,000 kilowatts of electricity at peak demand, although the plant will create its own steam and natural gas by processing sugars within the straw or stover that cannot be processed into ethanol.

The project has a preliminary estimated capitalization of about $150 million and will process 275,000 tons of straw and stover into 16 million gallons of ethanol and 120,000 tons of lignin pellets each year.

Lignin pellets can be used as a solid fuel and resemble small pellets of hard coal when processed.

According to the business description supplied by New Energy, the plant would require about 40 acres of land and be seven times larger than a similar plant in Kalundborg, Denmark. The Spiritwood plant would operate using technology developed in Denmark utilizing enzymes to convert the plant cellulose, stems and stalks, into a sugar that can be fermented and distilled into ethanol.

Connie Ova, CEO of the JSDC, said discussions of a cellulosic ethanol at Spiritwood date back to about 2009 when Great River Energy explored the possibilities of a cellulosic ethanol project..

"What stalled that project out was the assumption by the project principals that biomass (straw and stover) was worthless to the farmers," she said. "That they (farmers) would be glad to get that straw off the fields. When they found it would come at a price, they started looking again towards corn ethanol, which is what they have now (Dakota Spirit AgEnergy)."

In April 2016, New Energy Investors announced a planned groundbreaking for a cellulosic ethanol plant at Spiritwood for June 2017. The JSDC authorized a grant of $75,000 to New Energy Investors contingent on it securing a $225,000 Agriculture Products Utilization Committee grant from the state of North Dakota for engineering and feasibility studies.

The APUC grant was not approved, and the JSDC did not grant New Energy Investors any funds at that time.

The tenant interest form filed this week does not include any requests for incentive funds but asks to lease or acquire land in SEPA for the processing plant and straw bale storage.

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