Colorado cattleman puts faith in gasohol's future

Howard Norman of Fort Collins, Colo., pressed by the ups and downs of the beef market, plans to get double use out of the 100,000 bushels of corn he keeps in three silos at his cattle feed-lot operation.

He will build a plant to produce ethanol from the corn, use the wet marsh that is left over the feed the 9,000 head of cattle in his lots, and sell the ethanol to nearby gasohol distributors.

His objective, Mr. Norman says, is to help meet the nation's fuel needs, strengthen the local economy, and increase his own returns as an agri-businessman.

I'm a cattle feeder by nature and would like to continue that way," he explains. "But about eight or nine months ago I started investigating the production of fuel alcohol from farm products and the use of the byproducts for the cattle feed.

"One of the first things I did was to go to a seminar at CSU (Colorado State University in Fort Collins) in the production of farm alcohol. Such types of small plants would not produce the actual fuel-grade alcohol, but rather the 180 - to 190-proof alhol that could be upgraded in another plant and distilled further to produce the anhydrous alcohol that is required for fuel.

"The production of anhydrous alcohol requires twice as much energy as it does to produce 190-proof alcohol," Norman continued. "But in order to produce and sell it commercially, we thought it was necessary to look at going all the way with anhydrous alcohol. You take anhydrous alcohol and mix one part of that with nine parts of unleaded gasoline, and you then have what is termed gasohol."

The Energy Research Advisory Board of the US Department of Energy (DOE) recently reported that by "using either existing technology or the best available technology before 1985 with existing oil- or gas-fueled fermentation/distillation plants, the net energy return for ethanol production from corn and other crops is about zero."

Norman does not agree, and he is not alone. Sen. George McGovern (D) of South Dakota, a member of the congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC) questions the findings of the study group that produced the DOE report. And at a June 25 hearing of a JEC subcommittee on energy, energy experts as well as congressional spokesmen challenged the findings.

In a written petition to his county commission in Colorado, Mr. Norman presented his own findings with regard to energy expenditure in the production of gasohol or ethanol. His report says: "Many articles have been published recently saying that it takes as much energy or fuel to produce a gallon of ethanol from a bushel of corn as the energy gained from the ethanol. This is not true where the ethanol plant is linked with a feed lot.

"Silver Engineering Company of Denver builds ethanol plants and will guarantee the Btus expended in producing a gallon of ethanol to be no more than 29,700 Btus if the byproduct is not dried. Ethanol has a heat value of 84,400 Btus or a net gain of 54,700 Btus per gallon produced."

The petition goes on to point out what Norman sees as the hitch or the misunderstood factor in most ethanol plant studies.

"The problem with most ethanol plant feasibility studies," it explains, "lies in the sale or use of the wet byproduct, because it cannot be economically dried. The byproduct is an excellent feed for livestock without drying because only the starch has been removed from the corn, leaving the protein and fiber. The pen capacity for Norman Land and Livestock Company is 9,000 head. The byproduct from a plant making 8,000 gallons of ethanol a day can easily be used to feed the cattle.

"We intend to integrate the alcohol plant and the feed-lot venture into one operation," Norman explains.

Mr. Norman intends to use locally grown crops of corn for his gasohol plant whenever available. He says it will take three to four trailer-truck loads a day, producing one truckload of ethanol.

Besides corn and other grains, sugar beets, wheat, and potatoes can be used to make ethanol, the Colorado feed-lot operator points out.

Norman, who took a research trip to northwestern Germany this summer, says that there are numerous farm alcohol plants in that area which make 190-proof alcohol. The product is purchased by the West German government.

He feels that as the price of gasoline rises, gasohol prices will go up comparably, making the production of ethanol for making gasohol increasingly profitable. "The economics of the alcohol plant are very good, or I would not be pursuing it," Mr. Norman asserts.

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