AltEn's Byproduct Sale to Kansas Company Called Off After State Intervention

Jan. 19, 2022, 6 p.m. ·

Piles of leftover waste from an ethanol plant in mounds with brown ground in front.
Unlike most other plants, AltEn used pesticide treated seed corn instead of harvested grain to produce its ethanol. Piles of leftover waste from that process are seen lining the property on March 9, 2021. Mead’s infamous scent ––which people describe as rotten, putrid, and rancid –– has been attributed to these mounds. (Photo by Gabriella Parsons, Nebraska Public Media Labs)

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AltEn needed a place to send its piles of charred corn grains, which are essentially the leftovers from when the company turned pesticide-coated seed corn into ethanol.

And on Dec. 27, it seemed like they had a solution for the biochar. Correspondence available in a portal on the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy website shows AltEn President Tanner Shaw wrote to an NDEE official named Tom Buell. Shaw said a company in Topeka, Kansas would remove the material from the ethanol plant’s site in Mead, Nebraska, and apply it to land to grow corn and soybeans. The company’s name is B Cole Agricultural.

In the same email, Shaw contested the department's finding that the material must be handled and disposed of as a solid waste – meaning the product should not be applied to land and ideally, should be taken to a landfill. He said AltEn’s testing had shown contaminants were non-detectable.

The next day, Buell notified his Kansas counterpart a Topeka company planned to apply the material to land, even though NDEE had deemed the product a solid waste.

On Dec. 29, Kansas officials spoke with B Cole Agricultural President Brady Yingling. They told Yingling the requirements – that the material from AltEn would need to be disposed of at a landfill.

To apply it to land, as Yingling’s company had planned to do, he’d need to remove pesticides from the material and prove to the state of Kansas that it was an effective substitute for a commercial product.

A week later, in early January, Yingling replied to the Kansas officials by email. He said AltEn didn't disclose the risks associated with the product. Yingling told the officials his company would not take delivery of the material from AltEn.

In the message, Yingling wrote:

“As a young family man we feel strongly about eco-friendly processes. Having three children I want to ensure they are eating properly and healthy. Free of waste of any kind that could impact their health.”

Now AltEn will have to find a new removal strategy for the 600 sacks of biochar outside the village of Mead.