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Mason City Experiencing a Boom in Biofuels

Existing ethanol refinery expands, and a new biodiesel plant opens up in this northern Iowa community.

Golden Grain Energy, LLC in mid-June began production at its expanded ethanol refinery near Mason City, Iowa. The facility is now processing corn into over 100 million gallons of ethanol annually with plans and permitting in place to increase production to 150 million gallons annually.

"At a time when OPEC is threatening the United States with substantially higher crude oil prices, it is exciting to see a locally-owned Iowa ethanol refinery step up to the challenge of delivering an affordable, homegrown renewable fuel," says Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. "How long must we be tied to OPEC and their anti-U.S. policies before the entire country gets serious about energy security?"

Fagen, Inc., the Granite Falls, Minn. design-build contractor, oversaw the construction and incorporated a process design by ICM, Inc. of Colwich, Kan.

Golden Grain Energy CEO Walter Wendland states, "With ideal infrastructure, corn availability, the support of our community and the support of our members it was an easy decision to expand the ethanol refinery in Mason City. I feel Golden Grain has the best group of managers and employees in the ethanol business and we will be up to the challenges of operating what has the potential to be nearly the largest dry mill facility in the nation. Golden Grain Energy would like to thank Fagen and ICM for completing the project well ahead of schedule and for their patience while building around an operating plant for the last 13 months."

Biodiesel facility also begins production

Also beginning production in June near Mason City, Freedom Fuels, LLC is a new biodiesel manufacturing plant. The facility employs 23 people to process soybean oil and animal fats into 30 million gallons of biodiesel and 3 million gallons of glycerin annually.

"The opening of this plant means that another grassroots biorefinery is on the map in Iowa," says Shaw, "New, state-of-the-art facilities like Freedom Fuels will help fill the demand for high-quality biodiesel stemming from high petroleum prices and the need for lubricity in ultra-low sulfur diesel."

The Freedom Fuels plant was built by NewMech Companies Inc. and was designed by SSOE and Crown Iron Works Company. In addition to the production facility, pretreatment area for oils and fats, a 1.5-million-gallon tank farm and administration building, the facility includes a full laboratory that tests all incoming and outgoing products to ensure Freedom Fuels, LLC meets strict quality standards for the biodiesel it sells to the marketplace.

"From the very first batch, the biodiesel exceeded specifications for quality," says Brian Stork of Core Ventures Renewable Fuels and the General Manager of the plant. "We are proud of our team and the efforts they have taken to ensure the investors a quality product from the first batch. Since the plant started, all of the biodiesel that has been produced has met specifications."

More biodiesel refineries on the way

Iowa is the leader in renewable fuels production. Iowa has 11 biodiesel refineries now in operation with a combined annual capacity of nearly 200 million gallons of production. Three biodiesel refineries under construction will add 120 million gallons of capacity.

In addition, Iowa has 28 ethanol refineries with the capacity to produce nearly 1.9 billion gallons annually. There are 19 ethanol refineries under construction or expansion that will add over 1.4 billion gallons of annual capacity. Many additional renewable fuels projects are under development, notes Shaw.

The IRFA was formed in 2002 to represent the state's ethanol and biodiesel producers. The trade group fosters the development and growth of the renewable fuels industry in Iowa through education, promotion, legislation and infrastructure development. For more information, visit  

- Brian Sexton is the 2007 Wallaces Farmer summer intern and a student at Iowa State University

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