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An Application Of Geographic Information Systems To Alfalfa Bio-Mass Energy And Marketing Coops


  • Fruin, Jerry E.


Minnesota Valley Alfalfa Producers Cooperative (MNVAP), a farmer-owned cooperative based in west central Minnesota, has contracted to provide 75 megawatts of electric power produced from alfalfa stem biomass. The cooperative is considering a novel enterprise--the production of both electrical power and alfalfa leaf meal products from alfalfa hay. Seven hundred thousand tons of alfalfa hay from 200,000 acres grown by more than 1,000 farmers over twelve counties will need to be transported and separated into leaves and stems before power generation can occur. The alfalfa leaves would be used in various animal feeds ranging from 17% to 30% crude protein. Electrical power generated from this project will be more environmentally friendly than coal-based power due to lower sulfur emissions, sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere by subsequent alfalfa crops, and the production of ash that can probably be land applied as fertilizer rather than landfilled. The cutting characteristics and hay quality will result in two or more "lots" at each location. The utilization of each "lot" will depend upon its characteristics and will guide its movement to one of several separator locations. A Geographic Information System (GIS) locational database will be used to develop and implement the concept of a "virtual warehouse" in the biomass shed. There will be a road network overlay containing speeds, weight and bridge limits and other constraints for routing management. Each lot record with its location will contain quality data such as the following: alfalfa type (biomass or conventional), cutting number, quantity produced and yield, bale type, crude protein content, leaf content, hay relative feed value, leaf relative feed value, incidence and amount of rain after cutting, color characteristics, and type of storage. At full operation there will be 4 to 6 processing plants strategically located throughout the biomass shed. These plants will separate the alfalfa leaves from stems, produce value-added alfalfa leaf products and process and tranship the stems to the power plant. The virtual warehouse concept coupled with product blending plant scheduling and transportation models will allow the assignment of each lot to the appropriate processing plant and finished product to maximize the finished product value while controlling transportation, handling and related costs and reducing energy use in transportation and processing. An example of the use of the GIS database to measure and evaluate truck traffic impacts on the road network near alternative power plant sites is provided.

Suggested Citation

  • Fruin, Jerry E., 1998. "An Application Of Geographic Information Systems To Alfalfa Bio-Mass Energy And Marketing Coops," Conference Papers 14476, University of Minnesota, Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:umcicp:14476

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    Cited by:

    1. Doering, Otto C., III, 2005. "Agricultural/Renewable Contributions to U.S. Electricity Usage," Energy from Agriculture, Energy from Agriculture: New Technologies, Innovative Programs and Success Stories, December 14-15, 2005, St. Louis, Missouri 7626, Farm Foundation.


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