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E3 Biofuels Building “Closed-Loop” Manure-Powered Ethanol Plant

E3’s closed-loop system

E3 Biofuels is building a 20-mgpy (million gallons per year) ethanol plant at a cattle feedlot in Mead, Nebraska, that will be powered by methane from the cattle manure, greatly reducing energy costs while making environmentally sound use of animal waste.

The use of manure as a source for methane is similar in approach to that taken by Panda Energy with its three 100-million gallon ethanol plants in Kansas, Colorado and Texas. (GCC)

But E3 Biofuels is promoting its smaller system as “closed-loop.” Methane from the manure will power the ethanol plant, which will make fuel ethanol from corn with distillers grain for cattle feed as a byproduct. The 30,000 cattle at the Mead feedlot will eat the distillers grain right at the site, eliminating the need to dry and ship the product thereby saving more energy and expense.

A key component in the E3 Biofuels system is having a confined livestock facility with a slatted floor that allows the manure to drop onto a concrete surface below. For efficient conversion to methane, the manure should be as clean as possible.

The manure then goes into an anaerobic digester, which breaks the manure down into fertilizer and methane-based gas. The plant will use about 7 million bushels of corn to produce its 20 million gallons of ethanol a year.

The Mead plant is designed to use all the cattle waste from the feedlot, produce enough distillers grain to feed the cattle at the site and draw from local sources of corn, keeping an environmentally and economically sound balance.

E3 Biofuels envisions smaller-scale operations like the Mead plant being set up in rural communities across the country, broadening the economic and environmental benefits. E3 Biofuels hopes to build more than 100 such plants in the next 15 years.

The anaerobic digester tanks are under construction at the feedlot. The rest of the complex will be built this winter, with limited production planned by June 2006 and full-scale production in September.



The question of what they'll do with the effluent from the manure digesters is not addressed.

They also have a flash-only entry screen; anyone without flash cannot even get into the site.  They don't even provide a link to skip it.  Idiots.

Tripp Bisop

It'll probably be sold as fertilizer to nearby farms. I believe that's SOP with many of the digersters in use in rural areas.


I have never understood why ethanol plants are not co-located with rural electricity plants - the vast amounts of waste heat from electricity generation could be used to significantly reduce the cost of ethanol production. In addition, the coal-fired plants would already have railroad tracks leading to the plant (for coal), and the same tracks could be used to haul corn in and ethanol out.
Comments please.


Bill, your thoughts run parallel to mine.

Given our shortages of natural gas and LPG, we should be forcing all new ethanol refineries to distill their product using heat from facilities not fired by either of them.  To qualify for the tax break, ethanol distillers should have to cogenerate too.

Shirley E

Bill and EP: you are both thinking along a systems design approach which is a must for the future. In the past, abundance of resources led to inefficient designs; a power plant over here throwing away waste heat, an ethanol plant over there paying low prices for generating new heat while dumping its effluent into the sewage system, etc. Old habits die hard, but as more and more innovative designs like this one prove their advantages in terms of cold hard cash, we'll see more and more innovations like you're proposing implemented.

But it takes time; at present there's a lot of embedded inefficiency to overcome. Power plants aren't necessarily located in the most convenient spot for an ethanol plant, for example. But we could sure incorporate this into the design of future capacity.


If I were president, I'd handle that by ordering all natural gas fired and LPG-fired ethanol facilities shut down as non-essential users, to preserve heating fuel for homes this winter.  I'd also promote corn stoves (a bushel of corn turned into ethanol gives ~220,000 BTU, burned in a corn stove it gives 390,000 BTU).

Warm homes or cheap gasoline:  pick one.


Shirley you make a very go point. But also corn is not the only grain that can be used for ethonl distilling. And thier is more benifits. The corn millet is feed back to the cattle which in turn resupplies the manure (methan) and the the manure also creats a fertilizer in return grows more grain. See the loop?

Besides wouldn't burning the corn add to the green house effect. I'm sure greater minds then mine will run with these new ideas. Or at least we can only hope...


Finally people are on the right track. I have some ideas... tell me if im wrong:

1)Using cellulosic sources of crops for the ethanol, and corn for the cattle(using left over corn stover as a source of ethanol as well)
2)Converting the machinery(trucks/tractors) to run off of ethanol.
3)Then the manure can power the farm, whats left over fertilizes the farm, or at least the corn, since corn needs it.The cellulosic sourse wont require it(switch grass) as it doesnt erode the land.Corn will erod.

What do you allt hink?


I recently saw an artical about a Bio-Fuel plant that uses bacteria to break down any thing from old tires to baby diapers from the land fills been working for 9 years on this project do you have any info on this???

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