Renewable Energy in North Dakota

Energy plays a key role in the state's economy and growing renewable energy sources and industries are opening up new value-added markets for North Dakota.

North Dakota is one of the only states with a multi-resource energy policy guided by the efforts of the EmPower North Dakota Commission. This means the state has put a focus on developing our renewable energy sources along with traditional fossil fuel sources.

We also partnered with EERC to enable North Dakota households to be able to calculate their carbon footprint.

Biomass Energy

Biomass is residue of living plant material. It is frequently material with cellulose available on a recurring basis. Simple examples include crop residue or wood materials. Biomass would include any organic matter including trees, plants and related residues, plant fiber, animal waste, industrial waste, and the paper component of municipal solid waste. Scientifically, cellulose is defined as a polymer, or chain of 6-carbon sugars. Lignin is the substance, or "glue" that holds the cellulose chain together.

How Can Biomass Be Utilized?
Most commonly, biomass can be used as a fuel for combustion. The heat may be used to generate steam, which may be used to meet heating needs or run turbines to generate electricity. The North Dakota Renewable Energy Program has funded research investigating the possibility of co-firing biomass with traditional fuel sources such as lignite. Several methods are currently being developed to utilize biomass in advanced forms of biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.

What are the Challenges?
Biomass, such as crop residue, is typically bulky in their original form, and cost effective transportation from the field to a processing center can be an issue. Another issue facing ag residues lies in the nutrients. It is important to leave enough residue on the field so that nutrients, such as nitrogen, are returned to the soil. Research funded by the North Dakota Renewable Energy Program is being done to address these challenges. 

Why Bioenergy?
Bioenergy provides economic, environmental, and security benefits. The use of renewable biomass energy can create additional revenue streams for North Dakota farmers and other industries. In the process it reduces waste streams. Significant savings are attributable to reducing landfill expenses by alternatively disposing of volume waste.

Additionally, the utilization of biomass for bioenergy also reduces emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants by reducing fossil fuel use. By drawing on more diverse domestic energy sources, we ensure reliability, since bioenergy can reduce dependence on imported energy. This ensures a greater level of energy security. 

Want to Learn More About Bioenergy?
Learn about all the ways scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy are working to convert biomass into biofuels that can take the place of conventional fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Learn more here.


Useful Biomass Energy Links

Department of Energy's Biomass Program

Biomass Power Association

Alternative Fuels

According to the DOE, transportation accounts for 65 percent of oil consumption in the United States and is the main source of air pollution. Oil is a rapidly depleting fossil fuel resource, and countries like China and India with expanding economies are competing with the U.S. for more of a share of imported oil. That, plus the instability in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries underscores the importance of transportation programs. There are several state and federal initiatives underway to make better use of home-grown resources for transportation fuel, to improve the efficiency of transportation vehicles, and to explore alternatives to the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine.

What's been done in ND?

The Division of Community Services Energy Office has been and will continue to be involved with a number of transportation/alternative fuel vehicle programs and activities, including:

  • Biodiesel demonstration projects and information dissemination;
  • Sponsorship of UND and NDSU solar vehicle race teams, and sponsorship of national solar race through eastern ND in 2005;
  • Funding assistance for the purchase of hybrid gas and electric vehicles for the state motor pool;
  • Continuing sponsorship of the Red River Valley Clean Cities Coalition administered by the American Lung Association, North Dakota chapter in Bismarck;
  • Funding assistance for establishment of E85 refueling sites in North Dakota; and
  • Partial grant funding of GEM and other alternative fuel vehicles for state facilities.


Useful Alternative Fuel Links

North Dakota Corn Growers Association

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Renewable Fuels Association

North Dakota Soybean Council

Clean Cities Program

American Coalition for Ethanol


Ethanol is a clean-burning additive made from corn, a renewable resource. It is available in blends ranging from 10 percent to 85 percent. You can safely use E-10 in everything from cars to trucks, lawn mowers to boat motors, motorcycles to snowmobiles. 

When North Dakotans use ethanol, everyone wins. It translates into higher prices for our farmers, more good jobs, a robust economy, and a cleaner environment. It's good for our engines. It's good for North Dakota. It's good for America. And, it's good for the Earth.

What's happening in North Dakota

North Dakota is a leader in the ethanol arena. Utilizing both federal stimulus and state funds, North Dakota began offering retailers grants of $5,000 per pump in 2009. To date we have funded 175 ethanol blender pumps. These pumps enable retailers to offer mid-grade blends such as E20 and E30, and offer consumers a choice at the pump.

A Congressional Report found that the use of ethanol was not primarily responsible for the increase of food costs in 2008. Check out the full report below for more information.

Impact of Ethanol Use on Food Prices and GHG Emissions

Ethanol Benefits

Ethanol Facts

Geothermal Applications

The idea that the Earth serves as a good source of heat is certainly not a new one. Anyone who has traveled to Yellowstone Park has witnessed the awesome display of boiling hot water that surfaces from deep below the Earth's crust. Iceland utilizes geothermal energy for much of its electricity, hot water heat, and domestic hot water.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, within 10 feet of the Earth's surface, a nearly constant temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit is maintained. Geothermal or ground source heat pump systems can tap into this resource to heat and cool buildings. A typical system consists of a heat pump, an air delivery system (ductwork) and a heat exchanger - a system of pipes buried in the shallow ground near the building. In the winter, the heat pump removes heat from the heat exchanger (well field) and pumps it into the indoor air delivery system. In the summer, the process is reversed to provide cooling.

The ND Dept. of Commerce/Community Services was one of the first states in the country to enter into a partnership with the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium, Inc., a national organization committed to educating the public and promoting the use of geothermal or ground source heat pump systems. 

Geothermal heat pump systems are very efficient and therefore, very economical for heating and cooling homes and businesses. While the initial costs are higher than conventional heating and cooling systems, those up-front costs are recovered in energy cost savings.  A study was recently conducted by NDSU that shows that buildings that have installed geothermal in North Dakota use approximately 23% less energy compared to conventional HVAC systems. 

Click here for the complete report


Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS, is currently being researched around the globe as a means of providing renewable energy. EGS involves digging deep below the earth's surface, fracturing hot rock, and circulating water through the system. The steam that results from the process is used for energy.


Useful Geothermal Application Links

Geoexchange (Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium)

U.S. Dept. of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Solar Energy

The promise of limitless and inexpensive energy from the sun has been with us for as long as most of us can remember. Significant research and development has taken place to utilize this resource, and costs are rapidly decreasing making it a more feasible option.  Solar technology simply makes use of sunlight to generate electricity, provide hot water, or heat, cool and light buildings.
In North Dakota, the major applications are photovoltaic electricity generation, passive solar design and daylighting, and solar thermal and hot water heat.  Recently, Cass County Electric Cooperative began installation of a 102 kW community solar garden, called Prairie Sun Community Solar.  Members of the coop can lease a panel and receive the benefits of solar energy without worrying about installation and maintenance.  If you are interested in installing solar on your home, please view the EERC’s report “Solar PV in North Dakota" for more information.


Useful Solar Energy Links

U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Solar Energy Industries Association

American Solar Energy Society

Florida Solar Energy Center