What does energy look like in California?
Nestled in the heart of California’s Central Valley, and located in Fresno County, is the City of Mendota. Mendota bears the designation of “Cantaloupe Center of the World”, as agriculture is an important part of the City’s economy. The City of Mendota origins lie 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. Mendota has grown progressively, with agriculture always at the heart of the City. The city suffers from chronic unemployment, averaging 20 percent. In 2009, a drought combined with a recession caused unemployment to surge above 40 percent. The unemployment peaked at 45 percent in 2011 and has started to head downward. Mendota stands behind its strong heritage and community pride.
Mendota stands at the crossroads of its past and a green energy future. Mendota is developing into a leading community in Fresno County, and industries across the globe are keeping an eye on the projects underway there. 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 Bionenergy Beet Center before 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 the development process step by step. 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 such agricultural waste 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 into 33.5 million gallons of ethanol each year; 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.
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.
The project will benefit Medota in a number of ways. 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 biorefinery 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 a model similar to Mendota’s “Energy” Beet Biorefinery. One thing in these projects have in common is their ability to 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.
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.