Mendota beet ethanol plant gets $5M grant

A planned Mendota biorefinery plans to convert sugar beets into advanced ethanol biofuelA planned Mendota biorefinery plans to convert sugar beets into advanced ethanol biofuelThe California Energy Commission today awarded $5 million to support the design and construction of a Mendota biorefinery that will source local beet crops to make ethanol.

The project, which broke ground in October, aims to use advanced enzymes and microbial techniques to convert 10,000 tons of sugar beets into 285,000 gallons of advanced biofuel ethanol.

The award from the California Energy Commission comes from the agency's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, which will invest $90 million this fiscal year to encourage the development of new technologies and alternative fuels.

Currently being built as a pilot plant in Five Points, the facility should be complete later this year and is expected to create about 50 jobs during construction and operations.

Now, a consortium of growers known as the Mendota Advanced Bioenergy Beet Cooperative are hoping that the latest grant will lead to a much-larger $200 million privately-funded biofuel production plant if the pilot-scale operation proves successful.

Planners and investors are looking out to 2016 before completing a full-scale commercial biorefinery that would use around 840,000 tons of beets and 80,000 tons of almond clippings to produce 40 million gallons of ethanol annually.

A facility of that size, they say, will lead to 250 direct and 50 indirect jobs during construction, along with 100 long-term jobs and 160 agricultural jobs.

For wastewater treatment, the processes could add 400 acre-feet of treated water for crop irrigation while consultants say the plant could mean about $110 million a year in economic activity.

The full-scale plant would also produce 1.6 million standard cubic feet of biomethane for making compressed natural gas as well as 6.3 megawatts of certified green electricity and high-nutrient compost and liquid fertilizer.

In addition, the project provides an alternative use for sugar beet crops in the area that once were used by the nearby Spreckels Sugar plant before it shut down in 2008.

To make the project feasible, around 35,000 acres of beets would need to be grown year-round within a 60-mile radius of Mendota.