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Minnesota, the Green Giant: Going All out on Agrastructure and the Advanced Bioeconomy

Submitted by on April 10, 2015 – 1:38 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  … Today, we look at how Minnesota, too, has been experiencing success via its bioeconomy, and how and why.  The traditional view of “Minnesota”? A giant metropolis in the Twin Cities, replete with giant ag-focused corporations like Cargill, CHS, Hormel, General Mills and Land O’Lakes and technologists like 3M and Honeywell, coupled with a progressive, artsy and sciency society built around the University of Minnesota. Add to that, a region to the southwest with thrifty Minnesotans raising corn, soybeans and hogs, and those vast tracts of timber, mining and water to the north. Throw in hockey and some ice fishing.

Like many Midwestern states, Minnesota has deep roots in the traditional bioeconomy of food and fiber production — but has turned to the advanced bioeconomy in recent years, and become an energy giant, producing the equivalent of 40% of its own transportation fuel demand, through biodiesel and ethanol development.

As the state highlights on its websites: “Minnesota is currently home to 20 ethanol plants and one biobutanol plant. Ethanol combined production capacity of more than 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Minnesota also has the most E85 stations in the nation…Minnesota was the first state to mandate the use of biodiesel, establishing a B2 mandate that took place September 29, 2005. The currently higher level mandate is in effect for the “summer” months, April through September, and reverts to B5 for the winter months. The mandate is now scheduled to jump to B20 for the summer months in 2018.

Gevo’s first commercial isobutanol-and-ethanol distillery, is located in Luverne, while Green Biologics is developing its first commercial-scale plant in Little Falls, and Butamax is proceeding with a phase-one installation in Lamberton at Highwater Ethanol. Segetis committed to building a first commercial renewable chemicals plant in Hoyt Lakes, in the state’s northeast.

Last August, we reported that the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Polymers recently announced it has been awarded a $20 million grant over five years from the National Science Foundation focused on discoveries of the next generation of biobased plastics.

The 2014 EPA proposal to lower the nation’s corn ethanol blending target in 2014 from 14.4 billion to 13 billion gallons, is hitting the economy hard even after the proposal was ultimately abandoned by the Obama Administration.

We reported last August that the most recent quarterly survey of agricultural bankers by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, which tracks the important asset, shows Minnesota farmland prices have started to decline after a boom accompanying ethanol development.

The state, meanwhile, estimated that the direct impact of the EPA’s proposal would be a direct GDP loss of $610 million from loss of ethanol production, a loss of $101 million in value-added processing, and a loss of 1532 jobs.

How much available biomass does Minnesota have. A lot. “In wood,” says Lisa Hughes, “because of the decline in the pulp & paper industry, we have 3.2 million cords of wood lying in the forest and you multiply by 2 and that’s green tons. So that’s a huge focus for us.”

“The University of Minnesota feeds our industries,” says Hughes. “Whether it is chemistry, biology, engineering or separate programs in biotechnology and biocomposites.” But there are the Minnesota state universities and colleges — the MNSCU system — and there are certificate and associate degree programs specific to the industry available through 9 technical colleges. The showcase in the state perhaps is Minnesota West college, which has set up Biofuels Technology associate and certificate courses.

And, there’s bipartisan support for bioenergy. “What we’re doing in this industry is supported by both sides of the aisle,” says Hughes. “[Republican] Governor Pawlenty did some very progressive things, and [Democratic] Governor Dayton is adding on to all that, too. It’s been very stable, and they are going to support industrial bioscience. The metro folks love the R&D opportunities, and the industry partnerships and the new products, while you have the value add to rural areas.”   READ MORE

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