Bioenergy effort under way

Electric cooperative would produce ethanol, feed livestock

An electric cooperative in southwest Kansas is reaching beyond coal to generate power.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. announced plans Wednesday to create a first-of-its-kind “integrated bioenergy center” on a 10,000-acre site four miles south of Holcomb, plugging an expected meat-processing operation, dairy, ethanol plant and biodiesel plant into the co-op’s plans for its own expanding coal-fired energy center.

Together, the independent operations would work together to generate electricity, produce ethanol, feed livestock and otherwise help one another succeed – through reductions in water use, lessening of emissions and a host of other spin-offs previously unrealized in a single project anywhere.

“We’re trying to do something that’s never been done before,” said Scott Miller, a spokesman for the electric co-op.

Helping the co-op in its effort are the Kansas Bioscience Authority and the National Institute for Strategic Technology Acquisition and Commercialization at Kansas State University. The three entities are financing a study to see just what operations would be feasible for the effort, designed to produce renewable energy and conserve resources.

Four principals in a new effort to generate renewable energy at the Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s electricity generating station near Holcomb - Trevor McKeeman, Earl Watkins, Clay Blair and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. - discuss the project during a meeting Wednesday at the plant. Sunflower, the Kansas Bioscience Authority and an institute affiliated with Kansas State University are teaming up to study feasibility for the project, which they say would be the first of its kind in the world.

The co-op has announced plans to spend $3.6 billion to build more plants adjacent to the co-op’s existing 360-megawatt power plant.

Officials who gathered at the plant Wednesday for an announcement meeting did not have a set timeline for the integrated bioenergy center, nor have cost estimates.

Clay Blair said the “pioneering effort” would be a solid investment for the bioscience authority, which is searching statewide for promising research, business startups and other investments that would yield high-paying jobs and technologies.

“Bioenergy is clearly a good fit for western Kansas,” said Blair, the authority’s chairman.

The project would convert manure to methane, which could fuel an ethanol plant. Flue gas from the coal-fired electric plant could feed into an algae reactor, whose water could be drained for boiling in the power plant – steam drives the turbines that produce electricity – while the algae could be used to feed dairy cattle or help produce biodiesel fuel.

The key: Each of the systems would work together.

“We’re going to be able to integrate everything together and achieve benefits collectively that we wouldn’t be able to do alone,” Miller said. “Everybody benefits.”