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Politics, life, and other things that matter

Green-Collar Jobs For The Farm Belt

Posted by Phoenix Woman on March 12, 2008

This is just so cool I can hardly stand it (h/t Stranded Wind):

Graettinger, Iowa to get 250 greencollar jobs.

Submitted by SacredCowTipper on Tue, 03/11/2008 – 18:36. The Stranded Wind Initiative conducted a survey of the Iowa Lakes region last summer and have identified two locations that are suitable for a wind driven ammonia plant and the associated follow on businesses. The first one to be developed will be located in Graettinger, Iowa, producing over fifty full time professional, plant operations, and greenhouse/aquaculture management jobs along with several hundred hourly greenhouse and aquaculture production jobs.

Wind driven ammonia production requires a sizable wind farm, around a hundred turbines total, a small supply of clean, deionized water for hydrolysis, and a larger supply of lake or river water for cooling the operation. About half of the wind energy used in creating ammonia gets turned into heat and the amount available is sufficient to operate ten acres of hybrid greenhouse/aquaculture space.

The ammonia plant itself will consist of a hydrolysis operation that separates hydrogen from water, an air separation plant to produce diatomic nitrogen, and a Haber-Bosch style reactor to combine the two into ammonia. The ammonia plant will provide about fifteen plant operator and management jobs, while the air separation facility will employ about the same number of people.

The greenhouse/aquaculture facility will span ten acres and be built along the same lines as a hog confinement. The floor will be steel grates over “runways” where the fish are grown and the plants will be grown in a hydroponic fashion. The greenhouse will use carbon dioxide captured at local ethanol plants to raise the internal atmospheric CO2 concentration to 1,500 parts per million, five times the amount for in the air normally. When CO2 is that high insects don’t reproduce so the facility should be able to qualify as organic and provide employees with a nice working environment having neither pesticides nor herbicides in use.

Electricity demands in Iowa are highest in the summer and this is when the wind blows the least. The plant may only operate fall, winter, and spring, allowing the sale of electricity into the higher demand summer months and providing jobs that fit the work schedule of farmers.

There were concerns about putting an operation needing two hundred employees into a town the size of Graettinger but there appears to be a sensible solution to this. The greenhouse will employ a core group of full time people who manage the operation but the bulk of the work will be done by part time employees. The operation will run buses to the middle schools in Emmetsburg and Estherville for their 9:00 to 3:00 shift which is set up to fit the schedule of mothers with younger children. The same buses will pick up at the high schools for the 4:00 to 9:00 shift.

The ammonia produced, about 37,000 tons a year, will be enough to fertilize roughly a thousand square miles of Iowa corn crops, or all of the land under cultivation in Emmet and Palo Alto counties and then some.

There will be a pipeline built from the plant to the railroad in Graettinger and because of this there may be additional developments in the city of Graettinger itself. There are industrial processes such as the making of some plastics, herbicides, and pesticides that require ammonia, and ammonia can be used as fuel for a diesel engine as long as you have a little bit of diesel in the cylinder to start it burning. The Graettinger Municipal Light Plant may be able to convert one of their existing generators to ammonia and meet some of the new state requirement for renewable power that way.

The development group behind this are five of the volunteers from the Stranded Wind Initiative including one man from Graettinger and another from Spirit Lake. The owners of the plant will have to be either local farmers or their cooperative in order for the operation to qualify for a federal development grant. The odds that this project will receive funding are very good and it would be built in parallel with the planned Midwest Renewables 230 megawatt Vernon township wind farm, coming online some time in 2009 or 2010.

If you would like further information about this project you can send email to We welcome inquiries from farmers, economic development people, or investors wishing to build a similar operation in their area.

So, we’re talking about a wind-powered ammonia plant that provides local jobs, supports an organic greenhouse, can provide energy to farmers during peak growing season, has a reasonably light water footprint, and where the main product can be used as fuel as well as fertilizer. Plus you won’t need to use fossil fuels to make fertilizer.

21 Responses to “Green-Collar Jobs For The Farm Belt”

  1. Michael said

    Wow, sustainable, environmentally conscious development.

  2. Charles II said

    I would question whether ammonia can be realistically used as a clean fuel.

    Not only is it incredibly corrosive, so that small amounts leaking away are dangerous, burning it should generate nitrogen oxides, which are greenhouse gases. NO also has bioactivity, being a critical immune regulator.

    Many things that are possible when running one isolated activity become folly when expanded to large scale. Cars are a good example.

  3. Michael said

    Charles, wouldn’t you use the ammonia in a fuel cell rather than a combustion engine? Plenty of hydrogen density.

  4. For more on ammonia as a fuel and/or energy storage medium, go here. And here is a link on using ammonia both as fuel and fuel storage.

    Oh, and that aquaculture greenhouse? They’re working on (drumroll) algae growth so they can have algae biodiesel! This just kicks ass in so many ways.

  5. Even better: The reason that the ammonia plant doesn’t use that much water (and what they do use is put back cleaner than when they took it) is because they don’t need water for cooling — their waste heat goes to the greenhouse. I gotcher vertical integration right heeeeere!

  6. Charles II said

    I’d have to see the fuel cell to know, Michael, but perhaps. The articles I have seen have been on burning ammonia directly.

    And it may be that it burns cool enough not to generate lots of nitrogen oxides. I don’t know. But I do know that it raises questions in my mind and that some of the links provided in the Daily Kos piece that PW linked sound like True Believers. The ones I read don’t ask the questions that naturally occur.

    The Michael Yang link which looked promising, concluded that there would be greenhouse gas emissions. And one of them blithely talked about tankers and pipelines containing anhydrous ammonia. As bad as oil spills are, they do not compare to the likely effects of a major spill of ammonia.

  7. Michael said

    Michael Wang’s suggestion (here, page 9) would be to crack the ammonia for H2 production at refueling stations and compress it for vehicle use.

  8. Michael said

    Apparently I didn’t close that tag properly.

  9. Charles II said

    Oops. Thanks for the correction on his name, Michael.

    Well, if using ammonia as a storage format for hydrogen is the goal, that’s a possible, at least for storage. I still wouldn’t want to have one of those babies– or a pipeline, or a tanker truck– anywhere near a populated area.

  10. Charles, you can drop the Stranded Wind folks a line at They seem very amenable to addressing any and all questions, even if they’re not “nice” questions. (Several people brought up the old Altamont wind site, and Stranded Wind had hesitation in saying that it should be destroyed and replaced with something much more eco-friendly, efficient and better all around.)

    RE: Being located away from large populations: Since its main purpose is to produce ammonia for farm fertilizer (which even though it would do this only nine months of the year would create enough for the whole state of Iowa — the other three months it’d be sending the wind energy into the town grid), it’s of necessity located in a rural area. There wouldn’t need to be very many of these plants, either: This one plant handles the farming needs of Iowa, which is a pretty farm-intensive locale. I imagine three or four Inland Empire plants would cover California’s needs quite well — and without using fossil fuels. The main problem I see involving ammonia is not in its creation, but actually with using ammonia as a replacement for power lines: Can ammonia gel fuel storage cells be safely and regularly transported as needed over road or rail?

  11. Charles II said

    Ammonia for fertilizer is fine, PW, since it’s delivered as a non-volatile salt. There isn’t any long-term storage as a liquid.

    I agree with you that moving it is a major concern. But I still wonder about the level of production of nitrogen oxide. The Wang (not Yang) paper allowed for efficiency of conversion as low as 45% and no higher than 99%.

    Write them? And deprive you of an opportunity to do another interesting post on green issues? Certainly not!

  12. Chicken! Buuuuck buck buck buck!

    Seriously: You know the right questions to ask, so you should do it. I don’t know chemistry from Adam, and you do.

  13. Michael said

    PW, let me say that I’m not a chemist or expert in energy sciences, but it seems to me that there is no problem recognizing that ammonia is just one form of energy storage and may not be ideal for all purposes. As far as sending ammonia over power lines, why do this? Send electricity over power lines.

    We don’t have to eliminate all of our infrastructure at once, at any rate. It may be that there are better ways of transporting energy than as electricity, but this works fine. Where we generate the electricity, we can use non-polluting renewable fuels.

  14. Michael said

    Charles, the Wang paper had much lower efficiency numbers than present technology allows. I can search a bit more, I found some things earlier. Ammonia is not a perfect solution for replacing everything. We do need to be sure to prevent the release of new (or old) pollutants. If there are byproducts they must be dealt with in a way that is also sustainable.

  15. Michael said

    And the hazards of ammonia really do need to be thought about. Imagining a cloud of gas near a population center is not pleasant.

  16. Michael said

    What’s wrong with methanol from hemp?

  17. Michael said

    Ok, Charles, let me know what you think of this (PDF).

  18. Michael said

    fixed URL.

  19. Charles II said

    PW, isn’t Chemistry Adam’s sister-in-law?

    Michael, the solid oxide fuel cell looks interesting. It says that nitrogen oxide production is less than 0.4 ppm at the relevant temperatures, but gets somewhat worse at higher temperatures. It’s unclear whether more nitrogen oxide would be generated by the afterburner necessary to remove the unprocessed ammonia. The efficiency numbers are confusing to me. They look like they don’t relate directly to efficiency of chemical conversion, but to efficiency of electrical generation. But at first glance this does look like a substantial improvement over internal combustion.

    The cells lose efficiency at roughly 0.5%/1000 hours. Since that corresponds to tens of thousands of miles, that’s probably reasonable. There would have to be some mechanism for reprocessing fuel cells.

    When PW speaks of using ammonia as a replacement for power lines, she means transporting ammonia as a store of energy vs. transmitting electricity.

  20. Michael said

    I know what PW meant, but transporting ammonia as a store of energy should be compared to transporting petroleum. We shouldn’t replace electrical infrastructure with chemical transport.

  21. […] that sounds familiar, it’s because we discussed a similar repurposing of CO2 emissions in greenhouses back in March: The Stranded Wind Initiative conducted a survey of the Iowa Lakes region last summer and have […]

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