Mendota beet ethanol plant waits on $5M grant

Fresno County’s beet crop could see a resurgence due to an ethanol pilot project.Fresno County’s beet crop could see a resurgence due to an ethanol pilot project.Developers of a planned biorefinery in Mendota are hoping to get $5 million from the California Energy Commission as part of a program to encourage the development of alternative fuels.

The pilot-scale biorefinery broke ground last October following years of planning by former sugar beet farmers seeking an alternative for their crop when the Spreckels Sugar plant closed its doors in 2008.

Now, the consortium is looking at technology able to convert 10,000 tons of sugar beets into 285,000 gallons of biofuel ethanol.

The California Energy Commission will meet on Feb. 28 in Sacramento to decide on a $5-million award to the project using funds from its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program.

The project, which had already received a $1.5 million matching grant to examine its feasibility, is expected to create more than 250 jobs during construction, roughly 100 long-term positions during operation and more than 150 labor and agricultural jobs.

In addition, project proponents estimate that the plant could mean about $110 million a year in economic activity to the area.

To make the project feasible, around 35,000 acres of beets would need to be grown year-round within a 60-mile radius of Mendota.

If the pilot plant proves successful, investors intend to pursue a long-term expansion that will produce 40 millions gallons of ethanol using sugar beets as well as almond clippings.

The full-scale plant, to be built by 2016, would also produce 1.6 million standard cubic feet of biomethane for making compressed natural gas as well as 6.3 megawatts of certified green electricity and high-nutrient compost and liquid fertilizer.