A producer-owned grass seed company in northwestern Minnesota is on schedule with plans to begin generating electricity using byproducts from the seed cleaning process and the straw from harvest. Northern Excellence Seed, Williams, MN, markets perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and timothy seed. Its 29 farmer-owners also produce big bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass and Canada wild rye seed.

“Right now, it looks like we’ll be up and running in midwinter,” says Dean Carlson, a producer board member and treasurer of Northern Excellence Seed. Northern Farmers Co-op Exchange, a local grain marketing and supply co-op, also holds a major ownership position in Northern Excellence.

A first of its kind 100-kilowatt gasifier capable of burning chaff that hasn’t been pelletized first will be the focal point of the project. Northern Excellence will use the electricity generated in the gasification process – up to 750,000 kilowatts annually – to power its own plant. “We currently spend $45,000 annually on our utility bill,” says Carlson. “Eventually, we also may be able to sell the excess electricity we produce to the local utility company.”

The project will produce other benefits as well. “Right now, we have to haul one to three loads of waste every day from the plant to a landfill seven miles away where it gets burned,” Carlson says. “That costs us $10,000-15,000 a year. Along with a savings for us, it will also be better for people who live near the landfill.”

Carlson hopes the project will serve as a model for other rural enterprises and communities. “There’s a lot of interest in using biomass for renewable energy right now,” he says. “A project like this can benefit a local economy and the environment, too. It’s pretty exciting.”

For more information, call Northern Excellence Seed at 218-783-2228.