Md. ethanol plant to be explored

Grain farmers group contracts for a feasibility study

May 30, 2001|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

They might not be able to bring gasoline prices back down to the $1-a-gallon level, but Maryland grain farmers are exploring the possibility of building an alternative fuel production plant in the state.

Lynne Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, said yesterday that the group has contracted with a Minnesota-based research company to study the feasibility of building an ethanol plant in Maryland.

Ethanol is a gasoline substitute or extender that can be made from such grains as corn or barley, or from other starchy products, such as sweet potatoes.

The association, Hoot said, awarded a $40,000 contract to Voudrie Business Development Inc. of Elk River, Minn., to determine the feasibility of a barley-based ethanol facility.

Barley is being considered as the main ingredient in the production of ethanol because Maryland is a corn-deficit state, due largely to the Eastern Shore's giant poultry industry, she said.

"As a result, corn has a greater value than barley," Hoot said.

Hoot said the grain group "is looking at a plant that could produce between 15 million gallons and 25 million gallons of ethanol a year. That would cost roughly between $30 million and $50 million," she said.

"That's a very workable- size plant," Hoot said.

"It is typical of the cooperative plants in the Midwest that are operated by farmers."

There are 56 ethanol-production facilities in 20 states, said Monte Shaw, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, a Washington-based trade association. He said most of them are in the Midwest.

Shaw said Maryland's proposal is one of 40 new ethanol projects being considered in the United States.

There are three reasons, Shaw said, to build an ethanol plant:

To produce a product to make gasoline burn cleaner and reduce carbon monoxide emissions.

To produce a gasoline octane enhancer "to make a car run better, or give a little more get up and go."

More use of a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline could reduce the amount of oil the country imports.

Hoot said grain farmers likely would pay most of the cost of constructing a plant in Maryland. She said such plants in other parts of the country benefited from federal assistance, and this likely would happen here.

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