Community college plows new ground for biofuel crop research
The college’s interest in biofuels began several years ago when the Governor’s Workforce Development Council awarded a $100,000 grant to the college’s Professional and Workforce Training Center and Ever Cat Fuels to train current and potential employees in biofuel refining.
The courses included mechanical and biodiesel fundamentals, federal safety standards and technical report writing. By the end of the nine-week training in 2011, 25 individuals were certified in biofuel production. Sixteen of them were already employed in the industry but had had no previous training in biofuel refining. Nine others – all displaced workers – completed the certification program and most found jobs in the industry, said Steve Jones, the Training Center’s director of training.
In 2011, SarTec Corporation, in conjunction with Ever Cat Fuels received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy specifically to recruit farmers and others in growing energy crops, said Dave Wendorf, Ever Cat’s director of marketing.
“Anoka-Ramsey stepped up to the plate to work with us on this project,” Wendorf said. “Last year, they did some test plantings on the Cambridge Campus with pennycress, another energy crop that turned out to be problematic. With a grant this spring from the Anoka-Ramsey Community College Foundation, Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation and a Strategic Initiative Grant from the college, Waite-Altringer had the resources to plant and harvest the 24-acre plot.
“This year’s test plot certainly helps a lot because it gives us more experience and research on camelina,” Wendorf said. “Our long-term goal is to have our Isanti biodiesel plant able to process biodiesel from a crop like camelina. And with the college as a partner, we can make sure we have properly trained workers who can run our biodiesel facilities safely and efficiently.”
Jones said the next step for the college may be developing additional science and technology courses in biofuel refining with technical guidance from Ever Cat Fuel representatives and others.
The college is also seeking more community involvement. “We have local farmers on our advisory committee for the project,” Jones said. “We plan to involve 4-H, FFA and Boy Scout troops in working with the demonstration plot.”
Biofuels are expected to play an important role in helping Minnesota meet the goal, set by the Legislature in 2007, to produce 25 percent of the total energy used in the state from renewable energy resources by 2025.