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August, 2003 - SMAC in the News

EXPANDING RENEWABLES: An upcoming five-phase research study will look at renewable energy expansion

Jim Muchlinski

Expanding nationwide interested in renewable fuels production is backed by more than a decade of research.

The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, which has a Marshall field office, plans to take part in a research study of potential renewable energy expansion along with Southwest Minnesota State University and corn and soybean commodity groups.

The study, scheduled to include five phases, is being planned at the same time as the start-up of the new Minnesota Soybean Processors plant in Brewster.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman called for more efforts to expand renewable energy this month during a visit to the plant site.

AURI Marshal Field Office Director Max Norris said bi-partisan support for renewables ties in with research findings developed by AURI since the early 1990s.

“We've been working with it for more than 10 years,“ Norris said. “Some people laughed at us at first. They didn't see the value of converting more renewable resources into energy. Now there's a wider amount of support.“

He said AURI's lab research has included crop-based oil products, as well as wood products and recycles greases, all of which should be useful to future research.

AURI products specialist Dennis Timmerman said more renewable fuel production would lead to wider uses of crop by-products such as soybean oil, which have historically had a limited value.

“Our grain and renewable energy can serve as substitutes for non-renewable resources,“ Timmerman said. “It's about the same basic idea as what's been done with ethanol. Farm products become more than just a commodity.“

Michael Rich, Executive Director of the Southwest Minnesota Marketing Advisory Center at SMSU and an SMSU marketing professor, said research experience at AURI helped to give the planned five-phase study a good starting point.

Project planners are meeting this week to plan the first two phases. Later stages will include demonstration projects and eventually a commercial-scale renewable energy facility.

“We know we can have some type of first phase,“ Rich said. “How extensive it becomes depends on the level of support. It's a transportation and investment issue, so we'll have to look at costs, ability to create energy and compatibility with society's infrastructure.“

“No one organization could do it alone, and it can't happen overnight.“

He said some indications about the potential for more of a worldwide use of renewables should be available by the second half of 2004.

“If everything is left to its own devices, crop prices are likely to keep going down and energy costs will keep going up,“ Rich said. “By finding more ways to bring them together, we could create a better balance.“

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