Energy beets for ethanol
“Energy beets” have proven to produce double the ethanol of corn per acre in research studies. But what are the full economics and will a large-scale demonstration ethanol plant using beets as the feedstock prove enough value to construct an additional 11 large-scale facilities in North Dakota?
Almost anywhere in North Dakota has been identified as prime beet growing area, although a leader in beet seed development, Betaseed, claims to have proven that beets could possibly be grown from Alaska to Florida if the right varieties are planted for specific regions in the appropriate time of year.
Sugarbeets ready for pickup in a field after harvest. North Dakota State University and Betaseed oversaw 14 test plots in 11 locations around North Dakota in 2012. The beet harvest was quite reasonable in general, especially compared to some other crops grown in short moisture and high temperature situations.
Previous research has shown yields from 28 tons per acre for dryland production up to 41 tons per acre on irrigated acres, according to Craig Talley, Betaseed technology manager working with the NDSU Northern Research Extension Center near Minot.
Sugarbeets are commonly seeded at 54,000 seeds per acre and a producer can expect a 60 to 70 percent emergence rate, according to general university data for U.S. sugarbeet production. Higher emergence is being researched to allow a lower seeding rate. Sugarbeets can be used in a rotational system, with three-year, four-year or even longer rotations being best practices, according to most sugarbeet production specialists.
ADVANTAGES TO GROWING BEETS
Betaseed’s Talley, during research plot tours in North Dakota, said, “Farmers who raise energy beets may see greater soil health because the tap root penetrates as deep as 6 to 8 feet, using nutrients, nitrogen and water that other crops don't reach.” Crop consultants and agricultural retail crop consultants are listening and looking for assisting new beet growers.
“Growers who add energy beets into a three-year rotation could expect a profitable income,” he said based on the North Dakota research.
Betaseed’s director of business development, Steve Lipsack, failed to reply to requests for information about how the company’s energy beets might differ from food sugarbeets, the extent of different seed research around the country and working relationships for beet ethanol production in North Dakota and elsewhere.
North Dakota research is being done under the BeetsAll Biofuel project, which is a partnership between the Green Vision Group (GVG) of Fargo, N.D., and Heartland Renewable Energy (HRE) in Muscatine, Iowa, with NDSU extensively involved in doing an economic feasibility study, energy beet yield trials, and juice storage research that enables year-round processing.