Frank Van Kempen didn’t come to the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday looking for a government handout to help him grow his ethanol producing enterprise. The West Michigan entrepreneur is confident that it will thrive on its own, and pay for itself, with the help of legislation allowing farmers to use his patented fermentation process without the need of a special land use permit from the local authority.
Van Kempen, who spoke without notes and admitted to being “very nervous,” enthralled members with his testimony about how his process differs from other ethanol operations because it’s exceptionally quiet, farmers can save operating costs by using the cheap fuel in everything from diesel engines to lawnmowers, and feeding the byproducts to their livestock.
And, the process smells like “baking bread,” Van Kempen said. “There’s never been any technology like this. This is self-sustaining. We’re not looking for government grants, we’re not looking for anything. This thing makes money on its own.”
Sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), SB 46 would amend the Zoning Enabling Act to allow farms to have biofuel production facilities with an annual production of up to 100,000 gallons as long as they meet certain zoning requirements. In addition, 75 percent of the feedstock for the unit would have to be produced by the farm, and 75 percent of the fuel and byproducts would have to be used on the farm.
A larger biofuel operation would require approval by the local unit of government.
“They’ve had folks coming from all over the world (including) physicists trying to figure out how these guys are doing this,” Meekhof said. “It’s very, very innovative.”
Van Kempen, an electrical contractor who, along with partner Scott Sovereign, formed GrassRoots Energy, LLC in Walker, has an operation up and running on Russell Rasch Farm in Conklin, northwest of Grand Rapids.
Their noisy and smelly initial attempt was shut down by the township, which said it didn’t have an ethanol policy.
Their low-temperature, one-step process is different because it doesn’t require distillation and requires half the energy to operate as a typical ethanol installation. Furthermore, the high-protein food byproduct isn’t destroyed.
The process can use corn, potatoes or any other starch-based bio-source. Van Kempen has even used spent beer that brewers currently discarded into waste systems.
“What this all means is we have two valuable products coming out of this process in one simple movement,” Van Kempen said. “I drove over here in a diesel truck injecting alcohol. There are people who have injection kits in Nebraska that are doing 50-60 percent injection of 50 percent ethanol and 50 percent water, cleaning up `Nox’ (nitrogen oxide) ratings, cleaning up the exhaust, cooling the engine and providing more power.
“We’ve had a lot of interest throughout the world. Many other states would love to have us start this there. This would be huge for the farms. I’d much rather buy my fuel from Mr. Rasch than from a gas station.”
A unit would cost a farmer $80,000. The ethanol can be produced for 15-20 cents a gallon. Including the cost of corn, at $6 a bushel, the cost per-gallon is about $1.25, Van Kempen said. One acre of corn produces 600 gallons of ethanol.
Val Vail-Shirey, policy director for the Michigan Corn Growers Association, testified that the state’s nearly 11,000 corn farmers “have had a continual increase in the production over the past three years and there’s plenty of corn.”
Tom Frazier, legislative liaison for the Michigan Townships Association, said the group is comfortable with the terms set by the bill and the Michigan Farm Bureau, the Michigan Pork Producers Association, and the Michigan Soybean Association indicated support for the bill.
The committee delayed action on the sporting swine bills – HB 4503 , HB 4506 , HB 4507 , HB 4699 , HB 4504 and HB 4505 – until next week.