An Ethanol-Fueled Comeback for Sugar Beets
by Alice Daniel (California Report) California once grew a lot of sugar beets to supply the state’s sugar mills. Most of those the mills are closed now, and farmers have turned to other row crops. But in the Central Valley, growers are on a quest to bring back the gnarly looking vegetable — this time to turn it into ethanol.
The story starts in the town of Mendota, a poor, farming community on the Valley’s west side, where jobs are scarce and rarely steady.
“Our tagline is we’re taking sunshine and making it into moonshine,” said Diener. “That’s quite honestly what we’re doing.”
Mendota Bioenergy has a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission – and the partnership of university experts from UC Davis and Fresno State – to complete the test site. It should be up and running this winter and if all goes as planned. The company will then build the nation’s first commercial sugar beet biorefinery in Mendota by 2017.
The project is also unique because of its focus on sustainability.
“You’re looking at what you consider the energy balance of the farm,” Diener said. “The old cliché is we get everything out of the hog except the squeal.”
And everything out of the beet. Byproducts from the ethanol process will be turned into fertilizer and biomethane gas. Some of that gas will be used to power the trucks hauling beets in from nearby farms. Even prunings from other parts of the farm will be used in the biorefinery. READ MORE