What is in this article?:
- Former San Joaquin Valley sugar beet growers are expected to learn next month if funding will be forthcoming for a pilot biorefinery near Mendota, Calif.
- If the pilot plant proves feasible — next step would be an ambitious plan to build biorefinery that produces 36 million gallons of ethanol annually: plus 6.3 megawatts of certified green electricity, 1.6 million cubic feet of renewable biomethane, and high-nutrient non-synthetic compost and liquid fertilizer.
Rusty Gragnani, left, vice president of the Mendota Advanced Bioenergy Beet Cooperative board, stands next to a map showing the area to be served by the beet cooperative. Bill Pucheu, Cooperative board president, holds a schematic of the plant’s many components.
Beet supply pipeline
The cooperative would harvest and haul the beets from growers within the 60-mile radius of the plant. “Growers would be finished with the beets after the last irrigation. There would be no deduct for harvesting and hauling from the price,” he said. All growers, he added, would be treated the same, regardless of the distance from the Mendota plant.
The fully operational plant will require 4,000 tons of beets per day year-round to run efficiently.
The beet supply pipeline would be operated like a cooperative where growers would likely receive 80 percent of the field price upon delivery and the remainder in progress payments through the year. Mendota Bioenergy LLC would be the financing entity to obtaining financing to build the full-scale plant.
“We are estimating growers would receive $2,000 per acre gross,” Pucheu said.
Pucheu quickly points out that this beet deal will only work for row crop producers with inexpensive irrigation water supplies. Sugar beets work well in rotation with crops like alfalfa and cotton. That’s why row crop growers want beets to return.
Supplying beets year around will be a challenge, Pucheu acknowledges.
“We know it can be done for seven months because we have all done it. We think we can supply beets the other five months,” said Pucheu. The group will be looking for more sandy soils to grow beets those other five months.
The 250 acres to be planted for the pilot plant will be spread over the 60-mile radius with the goal of harvesting beets the first week of each month to supply the pilot plant.
If the energy commission awards the $5 million grant, the first grower contracted beets will go into the ground in June 2012 to be delivered to the facility about a year later, when the pilot plant is operational in about June 2013.