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All that glitters

By Staff | Jul 16, 2008

Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. employees monitor the internal workings of the facility Tuesday afternoon as the first 20,000 gallons of ethanol flowed from the pipe on Tuesday. The renewable energy facility is located west of the GRPE Elevator. EDN photos by Mary Ann Menendez

The ethanol is flowing!

The plant in Superior, owned by Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc, produced its first 20,000 gallons of ethanol early Tuesday.

Wayne B. Hoovestol, chief executive officer, told invited media the plant can produce 100 gallons of ethanol a minute at normal speeds.

The plan is to use corn purchased through the Great Plains network as well as from farmers. “It will all be purchased locally,” he said.

The local area encompasses a 20-mile radius. It is anticipated the facility will spend $130 million per year to purchase the 18-20 million bushels of corn needed to produce ethanol and its revered byproduct, distillers grain.

GPRE Chief Executive Office Wayne B. Hoovestol turned the tap to show the finished product—ethanol! EDN photo by Mary Ann Menendez

Once the ethanol is produced, it will exit the plant on unit trains comprised of 80-90 cars.

Hoovestol said the rail-delivered ethanol will be transported to California, Florida, New York and other locales.

“A small percent of our ethanol will be trucked locally,” he said.

Hoovestol said it takes approximately 2 1/2 weeks to fill a train. “We will be producing over one million gallons a week.”

Once the starch has been extracted from the corn for the ethanol, the remainder is transformed into distillers grain which is a high protein feed for the dairy and beef industry.

Scott B. Poor, Esq., corporate counsel/director of investor relations, said distillers grains contain protein which is more digestible to the animal.

GPRE has the capabilities to produce the wet distillers grain that is dried to about 50 percent moisture. This product is sold to local farmers because of its short shelf life..

The plant also produces dried distillers grain which has had about 90 percent moisture removed. Because of its indefinite shelf life, this version is shippable to any market.

There are 37 employees on staff at the facility which will operate 24/7.

The entire operation is monitored around the clock at the computerized control panel where employees can manage the entire process.

Poor said, “Because of technology, we can operate with a barebones staff.”

The plant’s lab is situated in the next room where constant testing on the ethanol, water and other aspects of the products is conducted.

In speaking of the plant, Brian Peterson, GPRE vice president, said, “This is still the right thing to do.”

He had the initial inspiration for locating a plant next to the elevator in Superior.

Plant manager Al Meister of Estherville said when the plant gets up to full production, 130,000 gallons of ethanol will be produced daily. It takes approximately 4-5 days to take the raw material of corn and convert it into ethanol and its byproduct distillers grain. Ethanol is the product created when the starch in the corn is extracted and fermented.

He explained 18 pounds of distillers grain is produced from every bushel of corn working its way through the plant. (Interesting tidbit: there are 56 pounds in a bushel.)

Watching the trucks loaded of golden kernels of corn enter the property to unload was impressive. Each load contains between 2,000-3,000 bushels. It takes just a few minutes to drop the entire amount into underground storage facilities.

Shenandoah is home to the other GPRE plant in Iowa. Corporate headquarters are in Omaha, Neb.