Turning wheat into natural gas-

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Grain producers could have an extra revenue stream if a construction project proceeds in Kansas.

VERBIO North America (VNA), a subsidiary of Germany’s VERBIO Vereinigte BioEnergie Ag, wants to build a US$100-million conversion facility on 160 acres of land in Sumner County, Kan. 

The process turns water and baled crop residue like wheat straw, and corn leaves, stalks and cobs into natural gas using anaerobic digestion.

The plant would require about 75,000 metric tonnes (82,637 tons) of straw and stover, which could generate up to US$3.5 million in annual income for local farmers. The facility would also create about 75 full-time jobs in the community.

Ultimately, VNA hopes to use about 150,000 metric tons (165,46 tons) of inputs annually.

The facility would also create humus, which is a “dark, organic material that forms in soil when plant and animal matter decays,” National Geographic says.

The plant would return about 1.2 tonnes of humus per one tonne of straw.

“We will return humus to the land,” Greg Northrup, president of VNA, told a Sumner County Planning Commission meeting, The Wichita Eagle reports. “We take the carbon out of the wheat straw or corn stover. We return all the rest of the values that the crop reside contains – the phosphates (and) nitrates. We will be working with growers to explain the value of this product as it might relate to current farm practices.”

But several community members oppose the plant.

VNA’s proposed site is along the Ninnescah River and would require about 100 million gallons of water annually to produce the natural gas and humus.

Some Kansans feel the plant would remove too much water from the river, making it difficult for residents to wash clothes and feed animals.

And others are concerned with removing crop residue from fields.

“The soil is a living organism, dependent on millions of interactions … the key to these interactions is carbon,” Doug Hisken, a crop adviser, told The Wichita Eagle.