Innovative ethanol-ag unit unveiled

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SALEM, Ohio – An innovative fuel and farm facility in Harrison County is almost ready to come off the drawing board.

Ultimate in recycling. Investors in the pioneering “closed loop” ethanol plant and livestock facility near Cadiz are close to submitting plans to the proper state and federal permitting authorities – final steps before construction can begin.

The proposed Harrison Ethanol combines an enclosed cattle feedlot of up to 10,000 head, a 2,000-cow dairy and a 15-million gallon ethanol production plant.

The biorefinery will employ up to 100 people.

An anaerobic digester, the first of its kind in Ohio, will convert the animal waste into fuels and fertilizer.

Cost of the complex was not released, however company officials indicated it will be privately funded through an equity investment financing plan.

Value-added. The ethanol plant will be powered by methane produced from the manure, and the dairy and beef cattle will be fed wet distillers grain, a byproduct of ethanol production.

Carbon dioxide, another byproduct of ethanol production, will also be captured and sold on the industrial market.

“The beauty of this design is that we have combined a dairy and beef feedlot onsite to consume some of the spent distillers’ grains from ethanol production,” said Phil Cunningham, a Harrison County native who now lives in Delaware County but still farms in his home county.

Cunningham is one of the founding members of Harrison Ethanol LLC, along with Brent Porteus of Coshocton County; and Gary Wilson, Wendel Dreve and Marion Gilliland, all of Muskingum County.

The owners have an option to purchase an undisclosed site south of Cadiz on reclaimed mine land for the biorefinery.

The plan was unveiled March 14 by Harrison County commissioners and the Harrison County Community Improvement Corporation.

Why Harrison County? Hilly Harrison County in southeastern Ohio is a far cry from the flat, cash grain country of northwestern Ohio, which is where a consultant to the Ohio Corn Growers Association declared in 2001 was the “best place” in Ohio to locate an ethanol plant.

In fact, Harrison County ranked 78th out of Ohio’s 88 counties for corn production for grain in 2001, according to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service.

But founders of Harrison Ethanol are quick to tick off factors that clinched their location decision: rail lines, natural gas options, proximity to major highways, tax advantages, plenty of grassland and an agricultural heritage.

Plus all of them call southeastern Ohio “home” and feel strongly that their investment should help build their local communities.

Economic development. Cunningham said the economic impact will spread across at least eight counties by creating demand and markets for corn and corn silage, hay and haylage, replacement dairy heifers and young feeder calves.

It will also provide opportunities for landowners with underutilized grassland to improve that pasture and use it for beef backgrounding operations, he added.

“We have an opportunity to rejuvenate the entire area,” Cunningham said, likening the facility to a spoked wheel, with the fuel and farm facility at its hub.

While local corn growers may have an opportunity to sell corn to the ethanol plant, much of the grain will have to come in on rail.

One bushel of corn produces at least 2.5 gallons of ethanol.

New technology. Common environmental concerns that surface with most Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, should not be an issue with the Harrison Ethanol facility, because manure will be stored differently and won’t be land applied, said co-founder and Muskingum County cattleman Gary Wilson. “Land application is not our problem.”

Both the feedlot and dairy will be under roof, and the anaerobic digester system will capture and process wastewater, urine and manure, turning it into potable water and methane gas to fuel the ethanol plant.

“The anaerobic digester produces a very condensed liquid fertilizer for crops and methane gas that can become ‘green’ or renewable electricity,” said Brent Porteus, who is also past president of the Ohio Corn Growers Association.

Less odor. The digester is basically a waste treatment plant. Digested manure is stable and, since the volatile compounds are removed, produces much less odor than undigested manure.

Biogas produced in anaerobic digesters is 50 percent to 80 percent methane; 20 percent to 50 percent carbon dioxide; and trace levels of other gases such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen sulfide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The material drawn from the digester, or effluent, contains ammonia, phosphorus, potassium, and more than a dozen trace elements. It is a good soil conditioner and can also be used as a livestock feed additive when dried.

Farm bill push. Nationally, there is a renewed interest in domestic fuel production and alternative energy production. For the first time, the 2002 farm bill included a separate section for energy.

The farm bill establishes new programs and grants to support development of biorefineries and helps eligible farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses purchase renewable energy systems.

Business and industry loans and guarantees will be allowed for more types of renewable energy systems, such as anaerobic digesters.

Potential. “Rural America is sitting on the cusp of energy-based economic development,” said Tom Dorr, the USDA’s undersecretary for rural development, speaking to Ohio Farm Bureau volunteer leaders earlier this month.

Dorr, who has been briefed on the Harrison Ethanol project, called the proposal “fascinating.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, has thrown his support to the project.

“While Ohio has no state ethanol production incentives, Harrison County’s integrated ethanol biorefinery plan is sound,” Ney said. “It’s a development that needs to be undertaken.”

Timeline. Harrison Ethanol has hired the Dayton-based engineering firm, AMG Inc., to build the ethanol plant.

If the permitting process, which includes public hearings, goes smoothly, construction could begin before year’s end.

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