When Panda Energy looked to expand into ethanol production, it wanted access to plenty of corn. With its unique method of making the fuel and its byproducts, it also followed the aroma of cattle manure.

It found both in southwest Kansas.

The Dallas-based company is building a 100 million gallon ethanol plant north of Liberal, between the farming towns of Sublette and Satanta.

The $120-million plant will use steam fired from the burning of 1,500 tons of feedyard manure a day, resembling new Panda projects using “manure power” further south in Hereford, TX, and north in Yuma, CO.

“This is the type of operation that fits into these Kansas communities. There's a local supply of corn and lots of cattle in feedyards,” says Rhett Hurless, Panda vice president of development.

Panda has extensive experience in developing power plants. Along with its ethanol ventures, it is engaged in biomass electric generating facilities and a biodiesel plant. It is also actively working on next generation clean coal projects throughout the U.S.

The high cost of energy is a major reason for both the Panda Kansas and Texas projects. For one, the continued high price of gasoline has made ethanol production much more profitable than in the past. Second, the high cost of natural gas to fire a major industrial plant makes Panda's manure-firing process extremely feasible.

Its unique process involves a “bubbling bed fluidized gasifier” — a combustion process in which a blanket of sand in the bottom of the combustion unit is heated to 1,500°F.

“Manure is blown into moving sand,” says Hurless. “At 1,500°, methane and other gases come off the manure and rise higher up in the combustion chamber. They are re-fired and moved into a heat exchanger.”

Panda expects to buy more local corn and grain sorghum in the Kansas location than in Texas. “We are locating in Kansas because they have good local grain production,” says Hurless, noting that the plant will require 40 million bushels of corn per year for operation.

“It will be another market for growers. We also have the option to rail in corn (and store in 400,000-bu. on-site facilities). But we expect to buy a lot of corn from local growers and from local elevators.”

Paige Alexander, Haskell County Extension agent, says the program “is a win-win situation” for area growers, who see most of their corn go to area feedyards.

“They can help supply either the corn or sorghum and receive a higher price for their commodity,” says Alexander, noting that the county raises about 145,000 corn acres annually.

The finished products will include ethanol fuel for blending with gasoline as well as wet distillers grain for use by regional feedyards and dairies.

“We're taking the manure from one end, then feeding them the distillers' grain at the other …,” quips Todd Carter, Panda president.

Hurless says there are more than 80 energy plants worldwide powered by one form of biomass or another.

By using biogas instead of natural gas, the Panda plant will save the equivalent of 1,000 barrels of oil per day, he says, making it one of the most efficient refineries in the U.S.

As far as the manure-power processing for ethanol is concerned, call it renewable fuels to the fullest.