A troubled ethanol plant near Mead that has been sued by the state for possible pollution has started "charring" thousands of tons of distilled seed corn in hopes of eliminating the hazardous chemicals the corn contains.
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy said it will be sampling the charred corn to determine whether the charring process has destroyed the harmful chemicals.
The AltEn ethanol plant, unlike other ethanol plants, had used leftover seed corn, which is coated in pesticides, in producing ethanol. The process intensified the chemical content, rendering the distilled corn unfit for feeding to livestock and unfit for land application.
A 2019 test by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture found that if the distilled corn were used as a soil enhancer, the level of one chemical would be 85 times higher than the maximum annual field load allowed by the manufacturer.
The department banned AltEn from applying the corn byproduct on land and ordered it to either dispose of it at a landfill or incinerate it by March 1.
A lawsuit filed by the Nebraska Attorney General's Office, however, said that the company had not taken action to dispose of the corn. The March 1 lawsuit said that at least 84,000 tons of distilled corn, in three piles covering 30 acres, were piled at the AltEn plant site.
State officials, in a Friday news release, said nearby residents may notice steam coming from the "biochar" unit, which is owned by GreenCycle Solutions and being operated by AltEn. A biochar unit typically chars biomass, with the resulting material typically intended for use as a soil amendment, the NDEE said.
The department said the emission testing that it ordered of AltEn and GreenCycle Solutions on the biochar unit showed, as of July 2020, that it did not detect pesticides and showed emissions tested below the criteria for other air pollutants.
The results of the emissions testing show trace amounts of clothianidin and thiamethoxam, neonicotinoid pesticides commonly used in seed treatments, however.
Results from tests on the charred corn will be made available on NDEE’s public records portal.