BOSTON - NewEnergyBlue, a Boston-based clean energy producer, announced future plans to convert 280,000 tons of North Dakota wheat straw into clean, low-carbon fuel to power California automobiles, the company said in a news release Monday, Sept. 24.

That amount of straw, the company says, will equate to an annual production of 16 million gallons of low-carbon fuel ethanol that will be sold in California, the world's fifth largest market for renewable energy.

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On its website, the company says its current intent is to "meet the annual billion-gallon demand of the California market to replace conventional ethanol made from grain with ultra-low-carbon fuel made from nature's wastes."

The producer's plans to use North Dakota straw is contingent upon the completion of a massive new renewable fuel refinery in Spiritwood, N.D. The refinery is scheduled to break ground in about six months, according to the release.

Sited in the Spiritwood Energy Park near Jamestown, the refinery is expected to produce not only cellulosic ethanol, a type of biofuel, capable of exceeding California's rigorous air-quality standards, but also clean lignin, a byproduct of wood used for generating energy.

Stephan Rogers, president of NewEnergyBlue, said he's pursued an economical way to turn plant sugars into ethanol for two decades.

"We are now reaping the benefits of over $250 million already invested in scaling up and optimizing our proprietary process," Rogers said. "When we extract sugars from grain straws and corn stover, they'll become cellulosic ethanol. But also imagine every plastic water bottle now made from petroleum someday being made from plant sugars that break down harmlessly in landfills."

Rogers said that the refinery, which he is calling the New Energy Spirit project, has attracted international investor interest with the hopes of securing the final round of financing in the near future.

"We've engaged top engineers to complete the development work," Rogers said. "We expect to finalize the $170 million financing and are shooting for steel in the ground by spring 2019."

New Energy Spirit Biomass Refinery, LLC will own and operate the plant once it's completed, the company said.

On a 150-acre site just north of the Spiritwood Energy Park, another massive refinery is also scheduled to break ground sometime in 2019.

First announced by Gov. Doug Burgum on Feb. 7, 2017, construction of the North Dakota Soybean Processors crushing plant could begin as early as the first months of 2019, according to Scott Austin, chief executive of North Dakota Soybean Processors.

The company is planning to close the equity drive portion of the project before the end of 2018, Austin said in emails to The Jamestown Sun.

Preliminary specifications released in 2017 placed the plant's processing capacity at 42.5 million bushels per year. The plant originally had an estimated cost of $287 million and will employ between 50 and 60 workers.

Austin said construction of the plant is estimated at 20 months with completion of the plant and processing of soybeans slated for the fall of 2020.