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WCROC celebrates renewable fertilizer pilot plant at dedication

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MORRIS – On an appropriately warm and windy summer afternoon, scientists, politicians and supporters gathered at the West Central Research and Outreach Center to dedicate the Renewable Hydrogen and Ammonia Pilot Plant, the most recent step in the WCROC's renewable energy program.

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The plant uses wind energy to pull nitrogen and hydrogen from the air and water and combine it into anhydrous ammonia fertilizer.

“It's a big idea and it's been challenging at times,” said Mike Reese, WCROC director of renewable energy, during the dedication program on Thursday.

Since the pilot plant design was finalized in 2009, the project faced delays that held off the first ammonia production until January of this year. Since then, scientists at the WCROC have been refining the systems to put the plant into production mode full time.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, who was instrumental in securing the funding to begin the renewable energy program in 2003, said he was “glad to be a part of local people coming up with ways to do research” in the area.

Others praised the way the plant takes resources already available in the area to build a renewable source for fertilizer.

Ellen Anderson, a former state senator who supported the project who now serves as an energy advisor to Gov. Mark Dayton, said that one third of energy used in the agriculture industry comes from fertilizer.

With this project, “Minnesota has the ability to show the world how to replace a barrel of oil” with a renewable source, she said.

Al Juhnke, agriculture and energy advisor for U.S. Senator Al Franken, said the vision for this project was part of a bipartisan legislative effort in Minnesota. Juhnke was chair of the Minnesota House Agriculture Committee while the project was being funded.

“Can you imagine every county in this state … and in our corn belt having a wind to anhydrous ammonia plant?” he asked.

Now that the plant is operational, scientists at the WCROC will turn their focus to understanding exactly how much energy the system uses and whether there are ways to make it more efficient or lower the energy inputs.

The project also connects to a broader goal to work on technology that will lower the overall carbon footprint of agriculture.

For more information about the history of the project, how the plant works and some of the future research opportunities, please see a PDF of a special dedication section for the project published in the July 6 edition.  

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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