The entrepreneurs at eFarms LLC believe they have an answer for farmers with crop overproduction, high fuel costs and the need for quality animal feed. Build a farm size mini ethanol plant.

eFarms Operations Manager Richard Edmonds says, “This is a stand-alone machine that a farmer can put in a 24-by-24 pole barn and run it themselves, getting not only fuel for the farm, but nutritious feed.”  He notes the planned design would take in any crop with a high enough sugar content that could be used for processing.

eFarms is out of Holland Michigan where winters are ‘mild’ due to the winds coming off Lake Michigan adding snow and keeping the temperatures from getting very cold.  The area is rich in farming for orchard crops and other very high value fruits such as grapes.  Holland is southwest of Grand Rapids and about across the lake from Milwaukee.

The company is developing a “Renewable Fuel System,” which will take crop products including corn, apples, cherries and other fruits and vegetables and turn them into “diesel” ethanol and animal feed.  You might wince, but a lot of the total production in fruits and vegetables isn’t suitable to sell for human consumption.  Currently, its mostly just wasted or goes to livestock feed.

The company has a prototype in development for testing and refinement, with plans to have five or six full-scale machines ready for testing on farms this summer.  eFarms is looking for about five farmers to test its new ethanol and feed production system. For more information, call Richard Edmonds at 616-395-8975 or e-mail  It’s not likely that they’d be willing to go far for the on farm testing, but the interest expressed from anywhere will assist in attracting customers, financing and talent.

Tom Burgess of eFarms. Click image for more info.

eFarms has received a $120,000 development loan from the state’s Pfizer Retention Fund that was set up to hire Pfizer workers.  Company President Tom Burgess, one of the lead investors who also owns the Merestone Group LLC development company in Hudsonville says, “Up until now, we have been working with funding from an investment partnership. The development loan will help move us to the next stage.”  With a current full-time staff of three, eFarms recently moved into space at the MSU Bioeconomy Institute in the former Pfizer development plant, 242 Howard St. in Holland Township, to complete development of the product.

Burgess estimates the machine should produce 5 1/2 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. Other crops are being tested for output results.  The RFS has a 7,500-gallon capacity for organic material, which is mixed with water and processed to produce the ethanol and feed.  That 5 ½ gallon per bushel of corn number seems really high, they might be using corn species such as “sweet corn” found in the grocery store.  But, in fairness, miss quotes and such at this stage are not big deals.

What matters is that local sized units look to be affordable investments.  One press piece suggests units might be priced at less than $100,000.  At that price local production in rural America might take off.  That would drive a whole range of E-something using products such as E-85 vehicles and ‘E’ conversion work.  Leave it to rural America to come up with self-sufficiency activities that urban America will watch and complain about.

The other aspect is that local ethanol production leftovers will very likely stay in the “wet” form of the refuse or distillers grain.  The drying of the refuse is one of the main uses of natural gas in ethanol production; so immediate use will save even more and improve the ratio of energy in to energy out of ethanol.

Urbanites might also need to be aware that lots of local ethanol supply will be an incentive for direct ethanol fuel cells.  There’s more folks out there than most city dwellers realize. As a market, rural America is a very large market indeed.  Add in the small towns and cities that could conceivably become fully energy independent, then the large metros would be come more secure as well.

Speculatively speaking in a very rough way, say a farmer loads 1,000 bushels of corn worth about $3,500 today.  From that the farmer would get (more likely) 2,500 gallons of ethanol, worth about $4,625 ($1.85 a gallon for the ethanol) the distillers grain cleared of the carbohydrates leaving the cellulose and proteins for the cost of the investment, some natural gas or other heat source, which at this size could be solar, and the enzymes needed to get to yeast digestable sugars.  It should work.

Ethanol is an American story that was built from the farmer up through to taking better than 10% of the U.S. gasoline market.  No one has to tell successful farmers that fuels and foods are incredibly similar things. A BTU whether sourced from fossil fuel or biomass is still a result of oxidation whether by a living cell or an engine, is still a BTU.

Less than a century ago, all the food people consumed was powered by corn and other crops fueling animals such as horses and mules.  A large share of the acreage farmers worked was dedicated to that ‘animal fuel.’  Petroleum pushed that acreage share back for a while, but now the price of petroleum products is pushing the other way.

Be grateful for ethanol. You want (affordable) food to eat don’t you?  Best to hope this kind of technological trickle down works in a big way.


9 Comments so far

  1. MattMusson on March 5, 2010 6:33 AM

    Corn, Pigs and Ethanol! Together, the integrated process can be way more economical. The wet feed can go directly to the hogs. The final result is energy and fuel. (Now if he can just run the pig methane through a bloom box.)

    The bitch is – the farmer will end up getting a tax bill on the ethanol he produces for his own use!

  2. Incredible Jane on March 5, 2010 2:08 PM

    […] Mini Ethanol Plants to be Built This Year | New Energy and Fuel […]

  3. Lester on March 5, 2010 3:31 PM

    Ethanol is pretty poor gasoline replacement, and an even worse one for diesel (as it can’t). Ethanol made from food crops is an out and out scam, the energy conversion efficiency is near neutral. Not so for second and third generation ethanol. We should skip the woefully inefficient processing, enzyme, and fermenting steps altogether by using the engineered bacterial that poop ethanol. I mean, really!

  4. Matt Musson on March 6, 2010 7:31 AM

    Lester is correct – until you take into account the new cellulose ethanol and biodiesel technologies.

  5. shipping a car on June 10, 2010 7:36 PM

    Great points…I would note that as someone who really doesn’t comment to blogs much (in fact, this may be my first post), I don’t think the term “lurker” is very becoming to a non-posting reader. It’s not your fault really , but perhaps the blogosphere could come up with a better, non-creepy name for the 90% of us that enjoy just reading the posts.

  6. bryan bass on September 1, 2010 10:34 AM

    ethanol is the future and only hope for our oil problem/i think all our veterans should get free e85 fuel for life…..

  7. Brady Kalen on September 7, 2010 7:32 AM

    Thanks for sharing. Share is caring after all.

  8. federal grants on November 8, 2010 9:42 AM

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  9. lee on January 8, 2012 4:33 AM

    would your plants be convertible to produce butanol as the fuel. I am working on a plan to produce butanol in a south pacific country to help reduce dependency on imports. Using a mix of plants as feed stock source. what would the plant system cost out of the US.

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