One Minnesota ethanol company plans to shell out funds to make the switch from natural gas as its energy source to corn cobs.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "This fall, the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. will go in search of the humble corncob. A $150,000 state grant will help the central Minnesota farmers’ cooperative test two collection systems to gather the small, scratchy harvest remnant: one that rides piggyback on a combine and one that follows behind.
“It’s the next step that’s, well, groundbreaking,” says the newspaper. “The Benson fuel cooperative intends to stoke its boilers with the cobs, after they’ve been transformed into a gas by a new technology that could do the same to all manner of refuse from the countryside, including wheat straw, sunflower hulls, wood chips and prairie grass. By next year, the Chippewa Valley cooperative expects to wean itself of 90 percent of the pricey natural gas it now needs to cook corn ethanol from members’ crops."
Critics say making corn ethanol uses almost as much oil as the ethanol replaces. But Bill Lee, a chemical engineer with the ethanol company, is part of a growing chorus saying that’s no longer true, if it ever was, says the Star Tribune. Lee and others point to the U.S. Energy Department’s most recent efficiency analysis, published last year, that credits ethanol plants with cutting their energy use by 22 percent from 2001 to 2006.