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Soybean crush plant at Crookston, Minnesota, gets favorable environmental review

Epitome Energy no longer has plans for a biodiesel refinery for the $300 million facility in Polk County.

Closeup of a pile of unprocessed soybeans.
Soybeans can be crushed with the meal used for livestock feed and the oil can be used for fuel or other products.
Forum file photo
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CROOKSTON, Minn. — A planned soybean crushing plant in northwest Minnesota, has gotten a favorable ruling on its potential environmental impact.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Tuesday, July 19, said the proposed Epitome Energy facility at Crookston would have no significant impact to groundwater or surface water, according to an environmental assessment worksheet.

The plant has been on the drawing board for a few years and at one time included plans for a biodiesel facility, but those plans have been dropped and were not included in the review.

At full capacity, the Epitome Energy plant would process up to 42 million bushels of soybeans per year. The facility will produce up to 450 million pounds of crude oil, just under 1 million tons of soybean meal, and 65,000 tons of soybean hulls.

The project is planned on 60 acres near the Crookston Junction at Minnesota Northern Railroad’s connection to the BNSF main line. A majority of the end products produced at the Epitome facility will be shipped by rail.

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Crookston, Minn.

The site also has roadway access from U.S. Highway 75 and Minnesota Highway 9.

The site is near the Ag Innovation Campus that is under construction as a research facility. That site, too, will have a crush facility, but on a much smaller scale.

Epitome Energy still has some steps to complete in the permitting process. This includes a virtual public information meeting on Thursday, Aug. 4, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., hosted by the MPCA. The public will have the opportunity to learn more and ask questions about the environmental assessment.

Wayne Melbye, former president of the Crookston and Housing and Economic Development Authority and a current Crookston City Council member, said the project “has kind of been dragged out,” in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic and also by the decision to drop the refinery part of the project.

Epitome Energy, based in Red Wing, Minnesota, could not be reached for comment.

In August 2021, Epitome Energy announced that is awarded Fagen Inc., based in Granite Falls, Minnesota, the contract to build the $300 million processing plant, which may include a refined, bleached and deodorized oil refining operation, also known as RBD, as part of a phase II.

Epitome Energy says on its website that it could increase the basis price to farmers by 10 to 20 cents per bushel of soybeans, expecting to draw from 11 counties in northwest Minnesota and extending into northeast North Dakota.

Epitome says its facility will generate over $300 million of new economic activity in the 11-county region of northwestern Minnesota.

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It is one of several soybean crushing plants in the works in the upper Midwest , including:

Soybean oil can be used to make biodiesel but also has many uses in the food industry and even products like tires and in road construction. Soybean meal often is used as livestock feed.

3978903+176Tkub_7WzaUAQ41PCu9WHoiSI5S8DmQ.jpg
David Ripplinger, a North Dakota State University Extension Service bioenergy and bioproducts specialist.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“Obviously we’ve had this huge growth in soybean acres in the northern Plains in the last 15 years,” said Dave Ripplinger, a North Dakota State University Extension Service bioenergy and bioproducts specialist.

In the past, soybeans had been grown primarily for export to Asia, but the oil has less value there, but he said that is changing.

“We are entering this period where the oil itself is now the primary product and the protein is now the co-product. ... Now we have a situation where we value that vegetable oil very dearly,” Ripplinger said. “That is starting to drive the economics of the soybean industry — which is a complete flip from a couple years ago.”

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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