Engineuity Raises $2.2 Million for Hydrogen Work
Mazda RX-8 Hydrogen RE in Cold Weather Testing in Hokkaido, Japan

Ethanol Plant Co-Located with Coal Power Plant Begins Operation

Headwaters Incorporated and Great River Energy, an energy provider headquartered in Elk River, Minnesota, announced today the start-up of Blue Flint Ethanol LLC in Underwood, ND.

The ethanol plant is co-located with the 1,100 MW Coal Creek Station and will use excess heat from the adjacent power plant to process an estimated 18 million bushels of corn into 50 million gallons of fuel ethanol annually. Blue Flint may be unique in the ethanol industry in its co-location with the power plant.

We believe this is the first ethanol plant in the world to be directly integrated with a major power producer like the Coal Creek Station. It is a state-of-the-art facility and we expect Blue Flint to be one of the industry’s lowest-cost producers of ethanol.

—Ken Frailey, president of Headwaters Energy Services

Headwaters and Great River Energy began discussions to develop the ethanol facility in early 2005. A subsidiary of Headwaters is a majority owner, and a Headwaters company will act as Blue Flint’s operator, while Great River Energy, holding a minority position, will provide energy and related services to the plant.

Great River Energy, Elk River, Minn. is a not-for-profit generation and transmission cooperative providing electricity to 28 distribution cooperatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is the second largest power supplier in the state of Minnesota, and the fourth largest cooperative of its type in the nation. It owns and operates Coal Creek and Stanton stations in North Dakota.

Yesterday, Headwaters announced that it had formed an alliance with CONSOL Energy, Inc. to investigate development of coal-to-liquids (CTL) plants utilizing CONSOL Energy’s eastern and western coal reserves. (Earlier post.)



I can't tell you how thrilled I am to see ethanol co-locating with a coal plant, thereby decreasing the cost of operating a coal fired power plant. Just thrilled.

Yeah, I know: less total waste, and less total carbon-based fuel waste. And the coal plant likely would have been built anyway. Still, some part of me isn't loving the reality of it all.


Now if they just add a algea biodiesel production facility it would be really nice.


Stomv: know what you mean. Not so bad if they were doing CCS (carbon capture and sequestration). But you and I know they aren't.

Mark A

Can Minn and Wis farmers supply the necessary 18 million bushels of corn to feed this plant?


Mark A,

Minnisota and Wisconsin, combined, produced 1.5 billion bushels of corn in 2006. On these numbers, I would guess that local farmers should have no trouble supplying the 18 million bushels needed per year.

See: http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/CropProdSu/CropProdSu-01-12-2007.txt


NBK-Boston, you beat to it.

Mark A, there's a nice pie chart doc at:


MN is projected to produce 1.31 billion bushels in 2008 and that will consume 27% of the state's corn production.


Now if they would just convert this thing to butanol, we might have a chance at energy independance in a decade.

Roger Pham

I guess two wrongs do make one-half right! Both coal-fire power plant and grain ethanol are environmentally the wrong things to do...but waste heat recycling is their redeeming value.

Now, if one can find ways to redeem the natural gas wasted in the making of fertilizer to grow the corn, then the diesel fuel used in planting, harvesting, processing and transporting the corn to the plant, and then the final ethanol to retail market! Lots of energy is still wasted in the production of ethanol, not to mention the land, and the increasingly-scarce water resources in the western plain states, soil erosion...etc..fertilizer run-off and contamination of ground water...the Gulf of Mexico is heavily polluted with fertilizer contamination from the Mississipi river...Shortage of corn for food production...People in Mexico are protesting escalating prices of their corn products (tortillas)


Stormy, JN2, Roger Pham,
Coal Creek Station power plant already exists. It was completed in 1979 (unit 1) and 1980 (unit 2). The ethanol plant will exploit a previously untapped synergy.

Coal Creek Station & Blue Flint Ethanol LLC:


Rogger Pham, the farmers are doing a better job of caring for the land than you claim. It's time for to you to visit China and see how clean their environment is and then compare it to the USA. Our nation runs on oil, coal, gas, nuclear power and not wishful thinking. Or maybe you don't eat food, live in a home, and how about your computer and Internet? I guess it's time for you go back your cave now!


Azeotrope boiling point of ethanol in water is as low as 78.2C, so distillation process really can benefit a lot from low parameter rejected heat from coal power plant.


Low corn prices are way more disastrous for farmers and rural America than high corn prices. As for Mexico, take a look at:


Both Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina are expecting to benefit a lot from decent corn prices.

Yet, corn ethanol is certainly not a silver bullet or substantial substitute for oil. It is just valuable gasoline additive and starting point for cellulosic ethanol.


What exactly is the source of this waste heat in the plant? Having worked in a coal fired power plant, I can tell you first hand that the only high temperature wast from a properly designed coal plant is up the smokestacks. That waste is intentionally maintained in order to insure that the plant exhaust goes up after exiting the stack & mixes with ambient air, instead of falling down off of the stack.


Coal Burner: How, then, do you explain the existence of cogeneration coal plants, especially in Europe?

Would be interesting to see a computation that takes into account the reduced energy input resulting from the use of the waste heat.

Would also be interested to see the impact if a natural gas fired plant were used.

Or how about using the waste heat from nuclear. Now, we're talking because the plant itself would not be emitting carbon.

While I still believe that ethanol should stand on its own, considering its low EROEI, the impact on food prices, the impact on the land, etc., anything that can be done to increase its energy, and, therefore, co2 efficiency, is welcome.

Tim Russell

Most likely the heat is tapped from the exhaust steam of the turbines. IE the ethanol plant takes over from the cooling towers. Not the heat in the combustion gas that is needed for the stack to draw properly.

Kit P.

Actually the article specifies 'excess heat' and it was Roger that called it waste heat. In general, cogeneration works by using extraction steam from interstage moisture separators to produce process steam. This a more efficient way to produce process steam.


Efficient European co-generation plants usually use a gas turbine or gas engine to produce electricity from the expanding gasses followed by a heat exchanger to collect heat from the exhaust for central heating or extra power generation. The coal creek plant uses only the latter half of this cycle.

tim russell-
The exhaust steam from power cenerating turbines is exhausted into a vacuum created by the water cooled condenser. The final stage of exhaust steam is less than 100 degrees F. there is alot of heat being removed here but it is low grade low temperature (high volume)heat that has no really cost effective uses.

kit p.-
I was kind of figuring they were using extraction or bleed steam from the turbine. They can call this excess steam (thanks for the correction) without clarifying that it's heat would have been used to re-heat boiler feedwater if it weren't going to the ethanol process. The part I dislike about this ethanol co-generation project is that it is greenwashing the fact that they are using some of the dirtiest, least efficient to burn coal, to make ethanol... and several people on this board who would have been up in arms about a straight coal to ethanol plant, are happy with this, because of spin.


Most coal and nuclear power plants are built on sprawling campuses (here is one near Orlando, FL on google maps http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=orlando&ie=UTF8&z=15&ll=28.481291,-81.172228&spn=0.015843,0.040512&t=k&om=1&iwloc=addr). Most ethanol/biodiesel plants appear to be tiny - built on an acre or two of land. Why not build an ethanol / biodiesel operation next to each one & use the excess steam they produce? Think of all the steam they pump into the air day after day! This is a no-brainer if I was a utility company....... I wouldn't be surprised if the private equity takeover of TXU would result in some kind of radical new approach like this.....

Kit P.

Coal burner, why is this a this coal plant as inefficient and dirty? I only have experience with coal plants as being good neighbors. I have noticed that some cities have very bad air quality. Lots of cars and no power plants. I can recall a time when coal were very dirty, but so were cars, home furnaces ans so forth. I used to be very anti-coal but I have changed my mind.


This particular plant is just much less efficient than most coal fired plants.
This particular coal plant burns lignite coal, as opposed to the much more commonly used bituminous coal. lignite has a heating value of around 6000 BTU/LB bituminous has a heating value of around 13000 BTU/LB. Lignite also contains significantly more ash. You have to burn about twice as much lignite to liberate as many BTUs as bituminous.
To ensure proper combustion, a certain amount of excess air is introduced into the furnace for each pound of coal burned. The more coal burned, the greater the amount of excess air that must be run through the furnace, the more excess air run through, the greater the amount of hot stack gasses wasted.
Several megawatts are also used to run the coal pulverizers. with twice as much coal needed, twice as many megawatts will be used in the plant itself.
You can produce far more KWH with a million BTUs of bituminous then with a million BTUs of lignite.
Next we have stack gas treatment, either by bag house or electrostatic precipitators. These treatment methods catch a high percentage of the particulate matter but not 100 percent. With twice as much stack gasses, you get twice as many particulates that pass through the filters. Same thing with the SO2 scrubbers.
Finally, the steam lancing of the boiler tubes to remove built up fly ash deposits is done every day. In most plants, it is the first duty of the midnight shift. it is done in the middle of the night to hide the very large plume of black smoke that is usually released. With twice as much coal being burned and a higher ash content per pound of coal, i'm willing to bet that the nightly soot plume is at least a mile long.

Kit P.

Good info CB.

Cheryl Ho

there are developmens in DME in China:

Currently, the market trend today is such that many Chinese coal chemical companies are moving towards optimising low cost and abundant coal feedstock for expansion into DME production.

If you would like to know more on COAL to Syngas to DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information: www.iceorganiser.com,

Jack Hilift

This subject shows up the whole problem with ethanol. Why doesn't the ethanol plant use part of its production of ethanol to create the ethanol product? Why? Because, it uses about as much energy as it produces and its using dirty coal for the process. We havent gained a thing!

The comments to this entry are closed.