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Posted on  

September 12, 2003

N.D. soybean group mulls biodiesel plant

By Dave Kolpack
Associated Press

WEST FARGO, N.D. - A group of soybean farmers wants to know if there is interest in building a biodiesel plant in North Dakota, which produces about 3 million acres of soybeans.

"This is the first baby step," said Terry Goerger, a Mantador, N.D., farmer. "If we get to the point where it says, yes, we should go ahead with this, then we need to form a company, very similar to what the ethanol people have done with renewable fuels."

The use of biodiesel in North Dakota has doubled in the last year, said Goerger, chairman of the North Dakota Biodiesel Steering Committee, a 12-member group that held its first meeting Wednesday at the annual Big Iron farm show.

The nearest biodiesel plant is West Central Soy in Ralston, Iowa, one of 18 such facilities in the country, National Biodiesel Board officials said. That plant is a farmer-owned cooperative with about 3,500 members.

The North Dakota group, which includes farmers, businessmen, county extension agents and politicians, plans a feasibility study that should take about six months, Goerger said.

"The formation of this steering committee is very timely," said state Rep. Pam Gulleson, D-Rutland. "The use of biodiesel is growing on a daily basis."

There were only one or two suppliers in the state handling biodiesel a couple of years ago, Goerger said. Now there are more than 70 retail sites, he said.

Soybean oil can be mixed with diesel fuel to form biodiesel, which burns cleaner than petroleum-based diesel. It can be used in diesel engines with little or no modifications, advocates say.

"Biodiesel contributes to our state's economy and can strengthen the farm economy in the form of higher soybean prices," said Matt Mechtel, chairman of the North Dakota Soybean Council.

North Dakota farmers grew only about 500,000 acres of soybeans a dozen years ago, Goerger said. Now, farmers plant about 3 million acres a year, he said.

Production and tax incentives for biodiesel have been proposed in the new federal energy bill, which could make a difference in whether North Dakota pursues a plant, Goerger said.

"I think it will stick," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., a member of the task force. "This is the type of commodity that can serve a national market. I'm a big supporter of biodiesel."



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