Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
What does firing up a charcoal grill in LA have to do with field corn raised in Minnesota?
A lot, when that corn has gone through the brand new Green Biologics retrofitted facility in Little Falls, Minn. The facility processes corn into butanol, the main ingredient in lighter fluid. And it’s renewable—that’s a plus in many markets, now.
Green Biologics also turns corn into renewable acetone, high protein animal feed, and a liquid NPK fertilizer.
But back to those burgers sizzling in Hollywood… Green Biologics brand name lighter fluid, Green Flame, is a low VOC product that’s already approved for use by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which governs air regulations in a large section of southern California. The heightened concern for air quality makes southern California a prime market for Green Flame lighter fluid.
Even nail salons in Los Angeles have emissions requirements, and they need to keep their carbon footprint in check. That makes Green Biologics’ acetone—the main ingredient in nail polish remover—a winner in the southern California market.
For 20 years, the plant in Little Falls was CMEC—Central Minnesota Ethanol Cooperative, a farmer owned 20 mmgy ethanol producer. But being on the northern edge of corn country, it was hard to compete with more modern 100 mmgy plants to the south, so the company was looking for something new.
That’s when Green Biologics looked them over and found exactly what they were looking for to begin their new venture.
“This is truly plant field number one. No other plant exists like it in the world,” says Jonathan Olmscheid, vice president for finance at Green Biologics.
They process 5.8 million bushels of corn annually into butanol and acetone, says Olmscheid, who notes that plans are already underway to expand capacity in this facility. More than likely, there is enough demand to build another plant, he said.
Though the new company is headquartered in Milton Park, UK, there is still local ownership. A number of the local investors in CMEC formed an entity that bought into Green Biologics.
Two other things that differentiate Green Biologics from a standard ethanol plant: the corn is milled and the protein and fiber are spun off on the front end of the plant, so that what they have is a raw, high-protein feed that is a hit with local livestock producers. Because the protein and fiber are spun off before fermentation, the bacteria that remain after making the butanol and acetone can be collected in a wet form for use as a liquid, NPK fertilizer.
“This is a nice loop system,” says Olmscheid. “Our farmers can buy fertilizer from us, grow corn on that field, sell us the corn that we can utilize and then turn around and particles of that corn become fertilizer that goes right back into that same ground.”