The photo looks familiar to you flatlanders, doesn’t it.

Sure does look that way to this flatlander.

But this is not an ethanol plant. Not even close. This amazingly engineered facility is actually for bentonite production. They mine the region around this plant, which lies between Lovell Wyoming and the Bighorn Mountains to the east, and others, then deliver it to them for processing in big, scary, trucks pulling pup trailers.

Bentonite? What the dickens is that, you ask? Why don’t I just ask Wikipedia? Okee-dokee.

Bentonite is an absorbent aluminium phyllosilicate clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite. One of the first occurrences of bentonite was found in the Cretaceous Benton Shale near Rock River, Wyoming. The Fort Benton Group, along with others in stratigraphic succession, was named after Fort Benton, Montana in the mid-19th century by Fielding Bradford Meek and F. V. Hayden of the U.S. Geological Survey.[2]

Now aren’t you glad you asked?

But hey, Mose, what’s the doggone stuff good for? Let’s see if Wikipedia has that answer, too.

Bentonites are used for decolorizing various mineral, vegetable, and animal oils, pottery and even as an emergency response chemical sealer and containing substance. There’s much more including a clarifying substance for wine, liquor, cider, beer, mead and vinegar if you will believe that.

The main use of bentonite, however, is for drilling mud (lots of oil wells in these here parts). There’s also binder (e.g. foundry-sand bond, iron ore pelletizer), purifier, absorbent (e.g. pet litter), and as a groundwater barrier. (This is the stuff folks here, Nebraska and everywhere use to seal the bottom of irrigation ditches, ponds and the like).

So, there’s quite a bit going on in this photo, isn’t there? Our ethanol plants, by comparison, are every bit as fascinating for their mechanical genius as their bentonite brethren, however their product is singular in nature.

Thanks to them we now have the opportunity to burn food in our cars.

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