Here is a Green Business News story from SW Colorado that is a great example of what is being done.
For 99 years, furnace tenders like “Outback” John Schertz have loaded coal into a giant boiler in the basement of the San Juan County courthouse.
Now Schertz is adding sunflower hulls into the flames.
Those hulls, pulverized and pressed into green pellets, represent a new twist in a southwestern Colorado attempt to turn sunflowers into fuel.
The pellets are made in Dove Creek at San Juan Bioenergy, which started in 2006 as a nonprofit cooperative to produce biodiesel from sunflower oil. The plant changed its business model and product focus as dropping oil prices and the loss of government subsidies for biodiesel made that fuel a less desirable commodity.
Today San Juan is a for-profit business creating uses for every scrap of the sunflower.
San Juan is extruding food-grade oil from the more than 10,000 acres of sunflowers and safflowers grown in that corner of the state.
Some of the sunflower hulls and other green waste from the plants power San Juan’s own gasification plant. The rest of the pellets are trucked to Silverton for the first large-scale use of sunflower hull pellets for heat in the state.
The plant also mixes sunflower hull pellets with aspen sawdust for home woodstoves.
“We started this up at the bottom of the recession, and we’ve adapted,” said Jeff Berman, chief executive of San Juan Bioenergy.
At between $500 and $600 for a seven-ton load, the pellets are cheaper than $150-a-ton coal, but when the cost of hauling the pellets to Silverton and its faster burn rate (8,000 BTUs per pound compared with 14,000 BTUs for coal) are figured in, pellets and coal are about equal in cost, San Juan County administrator Willy Tookey said.
“We felt if we could do it for the same or a lower cost, it wouldn’t hurt to be a little green,” Tookey said.
How green the pellets are remains to be seen. No analysis has been done of hulls’ carbon footprint, but Berman expects it would be less than coal’s.
Schertz, a former coal miner who has been tending Silverton furnaces for six years, said he is excited about the prospects for a heat source that is much easier on boilers, creates no dust and burns with an odor that reminds him of “a desert tumbleweed fire.”
He expects to add sunflower pellets to the furnaces in the Silverton town hall, old hospital and the Miners Tavern.
Schertz is giving pellet feedback to San Juan Bioenergy while Berman works on improving his gasification system that vaporizes sunflower waste and turns it into a power-generating gas. He said making biodiesel hasn’t been ruled out.
That could mean a cycle in which farmers such as Dan Warren, who grow the sunflowers, would be able to fill their diesel tanks and power their machinery with much cheaper fuel made from their crops, while the hulls would still be available to heat Silverton.
“It would be nice if we could burn it in our tractors. But whatever it takes to make this work, I’m all for it,” Warren said.
Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957 or firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s to bad that they aren’t making biofuel too. Maybe they’ll start up again. Plus, all the farmers need to do is make it themselves. Work out a deal to maybe trade, sun flower seeds for processed biofuel. Wouldn’t that be merely a trade of one commodity for another, and an ‘untaxable’ event? I’m not a lawyer and not giving legal advise. Just asking a question.
Food for thought!