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Can You Create Food, Energy, Heat and Fuel in the Same Place?

| Friday February 12th, 2010 | 4 Comments

ban-startup-fridayThe subject of where our energy, food, and fuel comes from is frequently contentious.

With just about all the options, there’s a down side: environmental effects, lack of infrastructure, cost as compared to current cheap options, the need to transport long distances, shifted energy burden location from vehicles to power plants or inability to scale. Each camp claims it has the solution, and much posturing happens by politicians of all persuasions, frequently for little more than pleasing their base.

But there’s a company I came across recently, San Juan Bioenergy, that deftly sidesteps all these issues, and is already proving its sustainable business model. It’s doing so by being many things in one place: A food, fuel, heat, and energy producer. And it produces these products for local consumption.

How?

The embedded video above tells the story well, but to summarize, San Juan Bioenergy produces food grade oil, animal feed products and biodiesel from sunflower, safflower and canola, grown locally by area farmers. The remnants are gasified, providing all the process steam needed for the factory. This has already been happening for four years.

Additional biodiesel will be produced using local feedstocks such as frier oil, supplying the region with its fuel needs, including those of the farmers growing the crops used by San Juan Bioenergy.

Its intention is to ramp up production from the current level of 10,000 acres of land being used, to 30,000-60,000, increasing the capacity and reach, while still serving local needs. In doing this, San Juan Bioenergy plans to then be able to produce turbine-based renewable energy for its own needs, and sell the excess to the grid.

Future phases include looking into utilizing wind power to meet onsite and area energy needs, later creating a greenhouse to serve as a lab for new and yet to be tested biofuel feed stocks.

This is in opposition to the typical model of aiming to scale nationally or internationally, and while it may prove difficult to convince your typical VCs and the like to fund, I think they’re on to something here. Forward thinking investors will see it too.

When you’re able to meet the needs of your local region with as few outside inputs as possible, you’ve got a more durable, resilient economy and community.

Replicating this model, with variations according to local agricultural capability, could well meet a large percentage of energy needs. In areas without substantial capacity, finding alternate ways to likewise be a self supplying, multiple stream of income/energy generator seems a smart path to go down.

Readers:  What’s your take on San Juan Bioenergy’s model? How could it be replicated in different areas? Would  you invest in it? What other locally focused bioenergy companies should we know about? What other ways do you see us meeting our energy and food needs in the long term, that are themselves built to be durable businesses?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media.


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  • JorgenV

    This is a great example of what is possible in many places in the country. The only limit businesses like this face when generating electricity is the amount they are allowed to tie into the grid. Colorado is a good state that allows 2 MW systems to be connected to the grid. Across the country it is a patchwork, with several rural states having ridiculously low limits that essentially prevent users from self-generating their electricity and selling the excess back into the grid. This Wikipedia article has a table with the limits for each state: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_metering#Unite

  • Paul Arthur Smith

    Thanks for the additional info Jorgen. Let's hope those limitations get changed/lifted soon.

  • JorgenV

    This is a great example of what is possible in many places in the country. The only limit businesses like this face when generating electricity is the amount they are allowed to tie into the grid. Colorado is a good state that allows 2 MW systems to be connected to the grid. Across the country it is a patchwork, with several rural states having ridiculously low limits that essentially prevent users from self-generating their electricity and selling the excess back into the grid. This Wikipedia article has a table with the limits for each state: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_metering#Unite

  • Paul Arthur Smith

    Thanks for the additional info Jorgen. Let's hope those limitations get changed/lifted soon.