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A New Face of Alternative Energy is Smiling in California

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Sugar beets

By Alan Anderson

Nestled in the heart of California’s Central Valley and located in Fresno County is the City of Mendota. Mendota is pleased to bear the designation ‘Cantaloupe Center of the World’ as agriculture is an important part of the City’s economy. The City of Mendota has its origins in the railroad industry. In 1891, Mendota thrived as a Southern Pacific Railroad storage and switching facility site. The first post office opened in 1892, and the City incorporated in 1942. The city has grown progressively, with agriculture always at the heart of the City. Mendota suffers from chronic unemployment, averaging 20%. In 2009, a drought combined with a recession caused unemployment to surge above 40%.

Nevertheless, Mendota proudly stands behind its strong heritage and community pride. Earlier this year unemployment peaked at 45% in 2011 but it has started to head downward. Mendota stands at the crossroads of agriculture and a lifestyle pace from a time now past, and the new technology and innovation of the green energy and technology movement. Mendota is developing into a leading community in Fresno County, and has been looked at from industries across the globe for the projects underway in Mendota. One of those industries is what has made California a champion in the world, Green Energy Technology.

I know some of you have heard me talk about Mendota BioEnergy LLC and their ADVANCED BIOENERGY BEET CENTER in previous articles. Just this week I sat down with two instrumental people from the development team; Jim Tischer, Project Coordinator, and Leon Woods, Regulatory Affairs. They walked me through step-by-step of the development process and enlightened me to the world making energy happen in the California state capital. Then they spent time with me explaining what makes Mendota’s “Energy” Beet Advanced Bioenergy Center different from what the rest of the U.S. knows as Ethanol.

Mendota Bioenergy LLC will test the feasibility of converting sugar beets and agricultural waste, such as almond orchard prunings, into several kinds of transportation fuel, green electricity and other green products.

An Energy Commission grant will support the pre-development work for the design and construction of the Advanced Bioenergy Center in Mendota. This work includes exploring the project's technical feasibility, its economic viability and its life-cycle environmental impacts. Mendota BioEnergy will analyze the sustainability of the plan, assess the properties of sugar beets and other feedstock materials, and then develop technology to convert the biomass into useful products.

If the project proves to be feasible, the Center could convert 840,000 tons of sugar beets and 80,000 tons of farm bio-waste each year into 33.5 million gallons of ethanol; 1.6 mm (more) standard cubic feet of biomethane for making compressed natural gas; 6.3 megawatts of certified green electricity; and high-nutrient compost and liquid fertilizer. The project could provide a major industrial boost to this agricultural area, a designated Enterprise Zone.

FYI: According to David Blume, author of "Alcohol Can Be A Gas," sugar beets can yield about four times more ethanol per acre of land than corn. (Food and Permaculture)

The Advanced Bioenergy Center will use four different technologies to produce its products, including advanced ethanol production, anaerobic digestion, biomass gasification, and water recycling and wastewater treatment. The project is expected to reclaim one million gallons of treated wastewater a day from the City of Mendota Wastewater Treatment Plant that will be used for biorefinery operations. It will also provide nearly 119 million additional gallons of water each year to be used for on-farm irrigation and landscaping purposes.

So in summary here are the main benefits of what this means for the area around Mendota, CA:

• The project could create approximately 250 direct and 50 indirect construction jobs in the Fresno County agricultural community of Mendota, along with 50 long-term jobs at the biorefinery and an additional 50 jobs for feedstock operations. Approximately 160 new laborers and agricultural workers will be needed to support additional sugar beet production on 80 area farms.

• The ethanol and CNG produced would replace 23 million gallons of gasoline each year, cutting greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum by 45 percent for ethanol and 86 percent for CNG.

• Cogeneration will be used to produce steam and green-energy that will be reintegrated as process energy into the bio-refinery process.

Additional benefits will include decreased air quality impacts associated with the burning of agricultural waste, and production of high-grade soil amendments that can replace fossil based fertilizers.

Other such projects that I know of in other states are also being developed around almost the same model as Mendota’s “Energy” Beet Biorefinery. One thing in common with all these projects is that they can make this Non-Food crop America’s answer to Brazil’s super successful sugarcane ethanol industry. Only time will tell but from what the experts say so far, this is going to be a big advancement in America catching up to the rest of the world in Advance Biofuels. This can only help us in our goal to make America energy independent from OPEC’s monopoly on the “Strategic Commodity” we call OIL.

So as we can see these farmers and businessman in California aren’t about to let the economy dictate their future, they are making the future economy of California and the nation the old fashion way with hard work and smart solutions. Solutions that are clean, green and beneficial to us all.

About Alan Anderson
Alan is a freelance writer focusing on green renewable alternative fuels such as sugar based ethanol and biodiesel. He has written for many online publications including, and The Energy Collective. President of the newly formed non-profit organization National Association of Proficient Renewable Biofuels (NAPRB) And Supporter of the Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011.