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Fuel for growth: Red River Biorefinery breaks ground as leaders praise industrial investment

BioMass Solution Principals Keshav Rajpal, center, and Jacek Chmielewski, right, laugh at Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown's joke during Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremony for the Red River Biorefinery ethanol plant. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service1 / 3
Golden shovels and hard hats are in place for the Red River Biorefinery groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday afternoon in rural Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service2 / 3
BioMass Solution Principal Jacek Chmielewski, center, provides a virtual tour of the Red River Biorefinery during the facility's groundbreaking ceremony as, from left, fellow principal Keshav Rajpal, Grand Forks Region Economic Development President Keith Lund and Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown listen intently on Wednesday afternoon. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service3 / 3

GRAND FORKS — Construction for an ethanol plant that will turn hundreds of thousands of tons of beet waste into fuel in Grand Forks is officially underway.

Local and state leaders met Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 22, to celebrate the groundbreaking for the Red River Biorefinery. Dirtwork has already begun at the 11-acre construction site that will be home to the 80,000-square-foot ethanol plant.

"It truly has been a community effort, and we really appreciate all of the support we have gotten from everybody in the entire process to get us to this point," said Keshav Rajpal of BioMass Solutions, the Wisconsin company behind the project.

The project that has been four years in the making is expected to be completed in December 2019. It will turn 500,000 metric tons of agricultural byproducts, including sugar beet waste, into about 18.8 million gallons of ethanol each year, according to the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

It is expected to create 25 permanent jobs, as well as 20 secondary positions that will support activity the plant, including hauling byproducts in for processing, BioMass partner Jacek Chmielewski said.

Trucks will deliver waste into the plant 24/7, and the fuel will be sold in California markets, Rajpal said.

The biorefinery will have the lowest carbon footprint in the U.S. for an ethanol production facility of its kind, Chmielewski said, adding it will not produce odors from processing sugar beet waste.

BioMass partners have declined to say how much the project will cost. EDC President and CEO Keith Lund said BioMass will spend $35 million locally in construction supplies and services. The Grand Forks County Commission also supported the company's efforts to sell $80 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project. The county is not liable for the bonds if the company goes under.

The Grand Forks City Council also approved a five-year declining tax exemption that would equal about $456,600.

The project will add value to sugar beet waste and other agricultural byproducts, Lund said. The biorefinery would not have been possible without a number of industrial and government partners, both locally and at the state level, Lund said.

"The theme of it really takes a village to bring a project together keeps coming to mind," he said.

By supporting the project, the city and partners have helped lay down the groundwork for "continued industrial investment," Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said. The company is the first to break ground in the plot reserved for industrial development in north Grand Forks.

The project has been more than rewarding, Lund and Brown said. It has been an opportunity to develop relationships, they said.

"In the words of (Humphrey Bogart) from 'Casablanca,' 'I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,'" Brown said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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