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Why Sugar Beets are Preferable to Corn for Ethanol Production

Why Sugar Beets are Preferable to Corn for Ethanol Production

focusing on beet ethanol makes sense for a number of reasons. Green Vision’s figures show that beets produce twice as much ethanol per acre as corn and require about 40 percent less water per gallon of ethanol produced. Using beets instead of corn also sidesteps the controversy associated with using a food product for fuel.

“This is probably the most efficient use for an acre of land for biofuel as there is,” Helgaas said. _CheckBiotech

In the higher latitudes where air temperatures dip far below sugar cane growing levels, sugar beets thrive. Fargo, North Dakota's, Green Vision Group aims to turn sugar beets into fuel, starting small at first -- 3.5 mgy by 2012. Later, they plan to build a dozen more plants at 20 mgy each. That is for one small group in one small US state.
A North Dakota group said Monday it plans to open a test plant that would turn dry land sugar beets into ethanol, with hopes of building a dozen processing facilities throughout the state.

Officials with Fargo-based Green Vision Group said the demonstration facility would produce 3.5 million gallons of ethanol a year using technology developed by an Iowa company. The plant is scheduled to open in 2012.

"I worked at a corn ethanol plant for 28 years. I realized early in the game that corn was not the prefect way to make ethanol," said Rick Whittaker, president of Heartland Renewable Energy of Muscatine, Iowa. "It was clear to us that the best bang for your buck was with beets."

The biofuel would be produced from so-called energy beets, which are different from beets grown for human consumption. Energy beets are genetically bred specifically for the making of renewable fuels. Researchers involved in the project said the beets can produce twice the amount of ethanol as compared to corn.

Unlike corn used for ethanol, energy beets would compete against the petroleum market, not the food market, Whittaker said.

"You won't have the food controversy like you have with corn," he said.

...The process separates sugar from the beets in the form of juice, which is then fermented and distilled into alcohol. The waste material from the fermentation process is then converted into a powder that's used as fuel to help power the plant. The leftover ash could be used as fertilizer.

"This reduces the plant's waste stream to almost nothing," Whittaker said.

Water costs are cheaper than corn processing because energy beets contain 70 percent water, Whittaker said. It would take 1.5 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of ethanol for beets, as opposed to 2.5 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol for corn, he said.

Energy [beets] were grown successfully over the summer at test plots in Carrington, Hannaford, Oakes, Turtle Lake and Williston, said Cole Gustafson, professor of agribusiness at North Dakota State University.

Researchers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado also are testing energy beets, project officials said.

"There's absolutely no reason this won't work in Iowa," Whittaker said. "We just have to convince them that corn isn't king." _DailyRepublic_via_Biofuelsdigest
Energy beets are also being grown in Maine and New York state. As biomass and bioenergy crops are adapted and modified for a wide range of climates and growing conditions, it helps to remember that nature has been doing this for hundreds of millions of years.

Sugar beets modified to grow on cold saltwater would extend croplands considerably.

By Al Fin




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  • Anonymous on December 16 2010 said:
    Some very interesting points made here. For cooler climates, the sugar beets sound like a good bet. But the meme that ethanol from corn displaces food is a urban legend 'cultivated' by oil companies and well meaning but confused environmentalists.Only the starch from corn is used to make ethanol. All the protein is recovered to make Dried Distillers Grains and Solubles a feed supplement for cattle. No loss to food for cattle supply. CAttle can obtain the starch they need from feed sources which are INEDIBLE to humans. Note that corn raised to feed cattle amounts to about 8 times the amount of corn raised for human consumption. While cattle do not need to eat corn. They can get along better on grass - what they evolved to eat - which does not take food from the for-human food chain.
  • Anonymous on December 17 2010 said:
    Now that is an interesting report. I didn't know any of this. Its practical. Its not going to happen because of politics and oil/gas power, but as a technological report on a potential alternative fuel source its really very good. thank you Al Fin
  • Anonymous on December 18 2010 said:
    Interesting. In the light of what might eventually happen to the oil price, we need to get over the belief/feeling that ethanol is a devils brew. A few barrels of it may well make a lot of economic sense. Notice the term 'few'. It means enough to keep the economy from going into the tank when the oil price goes past $100+/b.Someone once suggested that I should think about working with his organization, which had something to do with ethanol, but I listened to a very intelligent friend who thought that ethanol was a mistake. The mistake was that I shouldn't have listened to the guy.
  • Tyler Jordan on January 26 2013 said:
    Many studies have been done going way way back comparing beets to corn and sorghum for ethanol production. Many factors were left out in this analysis including chemicals, weeding, hauling, harvesting, costs all of which are significant factors. Each particular location due to water scarcity, average sunlight, soil quality, and temperature impacts the cost of one crop over another. This is never as simple as one will produce more than another.

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