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Announcing the formation of New Energy Farmers LLC, a biomass aggregation company

Dec 4, 2023

LANCASTER, Pa. and MASON CITY, Iowa, Dec. 4, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — New Energy Blue, the clean-tech creator of biomass refineries that turn crop residues such as corn stalks into some of the world’s lowest-carbon fuels and chemicals, announces the formation of New Energy Farmers LLC, which will be headquartered in Mason City, Iowa. New Energy Farmers is a biomass aggregation company jointly owned by Iowa farmers and New Energy Blue. Its purpose is to supply clean, sustainable feedstock to the New Energy Freedom Biomass Refinery, also in Mason City, and support the build-out of other New Energy Blue biomass refineries throughout Iowa and the American Midwest.

New Energy Blue has just completed the engineering of New Energy Freedom, scheduled to break ground early 2024 and begin operation late 2025. Because top-quality biomass is critical to efficient refinery operation and delivery of climate-healing products, over the past decade the New Energy Aggregation System was developed to assure a continuous supply of clean, dry stover in tight, compact bales.

During the Iowa corn harvest this past fall, the New Energy Aggregation System was again rigorously tested by chopping, baling, and stacking excess stalks across extensive acreage. New Energy Blue conducted the field trials using the latest methods and machinery from New Holland, Case, John Deere, Fendt, Massey Ferguson, and Mil-Stak.

From the fall harvests of 2024 and 2025, New Energy Farmers will provide a total of 275,000 dry tons of feedstock to the Freedom refinery—enough to produce a year’s worth of next-generation ethanol (made from the corn plant’s sugars) and clean lignin (taken from the stiff structure of the plant). Stalks from about 50 farmers with 110,000 acres are sufficient due to the exceptional productivity of North Iowa corn growers, who typically have three tons of excess stalks that need to be removed. Using the latest aggregation advances, bale weights increase from about 900 pounds to as much as 1500 pounds, cutting transportation and storage costs. 

“We’re tenaciously focused on every impact to our supply chain, from soil to product,” says Thomas Corle, CEO of New Energy Blue. “For our first five U.S. refineries, we expect corn stalks to be the raw material for biobased fuels and chemicals–replacing oil and gas refining in the future. We’re going into business with the American farmer, making a substantial investment.”

New Energy Farmers will become majority-owned and managed by the corn growers who have already committed to supplying their excess corn stover as a feedstock to the Freedom biomass refinery. Members receive a cash payment for every dry ton bale of corn stalks, own a stake in the business based on acreage, receive new farm equipment for harvesting and aggregation, and share in the annual profits of their own company. Lead farmers on the management board will oversee the process of procuring and collecting the stover from within a 20-30 mile radius of Mason City, managing off-site storage, and delivering the bales to the refinery.

Given that sustainable biomass sourcing and traceability are important to customers like Dow, “we’re pursuing ISCC Plus certification of our facilities,” Corle says. Manav Lahoti, Global Sustainability Director at Dow, says “we strongly support a bio-circular and low-carbon ecosystem for converting excess corn stover into feedstock for our bio-based plastics. ISCC Plus certification enables Dow to verify the presence of renewable materials in our products to help customers meet commitments to improve sustainability in their own supply chains.” 

Dow and New Energy Blue have signed a first-of-its-kind agreement for cellulosic ethanol from New Energy Freedom and subsequent biomass refineries to convert into bio-ethylene at the New Energy Chemicals ethanol-to-ethylene facility planned for the U.S. Gulf Coast. 

Every five years the U.S. Department Of Energy produces a “Billion Ton Report” calculating the potential supply of available biomass in the United States available for fuel and chemical projects. “But the great potential remains largely untapped,” says Joe Ahrens, Biomass Strategist and Logistics Officer for New Energy Blue. “The reason is simple. Nobody up until now has developed a system that can aggregate this feedstock sustainably and cost efficiently with minimal impact to the grain harvest.”

Ongoing research and field testing by New Energy Blue, says Ahrens, is expected to boost farmer yields and crop value while shrinking carbon impact on the environment. “So we’ll continue to promote carbon-retaining practices such as no-till seeding and planting cover crops to discourage wind and water erosion.”

Though the 2023 Billion Ton Report portrays the enormous opportunity for converting biomass into greener energy, “we’re developing the roadmap,” says Ahrens. “Everything we learned in the fields this fall, and will learn in our 2024 and 2025 harvests, will improve our New Energy Aggregation System and strengthen New Energy Farmers. Both will play major roles in our future expansion across the American Midwest.”

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Roger Moore
[email protected]