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Ethanol: More than just fuel

By Staff | Oct 3, 2008

There’s a whole lot more to ethanol than just fuel, Estherville Rotarians learned Thursday.

Doug Archer, general manager of the Green Plains Renewable Energy Superior ethanol plant, met with Rotarians to discuss a wide array of topics ranging from ethanol co-products to the efficiencies of ethanol production.

Archer passed around containers of ethanol, syrup, mash and distillers grains produced by the 50-million-gallon plant in Superior.

Archer said the GPRE Superior plant started ‘grinding’ or officially began operating July 6. Since then, the plant has produced 6 million gallons of ethanol.

Archer said GPRE is in the process of a merger with Virgin Bio Verdes which is co-owned by Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic Airlines. Archer said the merger should be completed by the end of October and will add ethanol plants in Indiana and Tennessee as well as GPRE’s plants in Shenandoah and Superior.

Archer also spoke to the local economic impact of the Superior plant which employs 40, many of whom live in Estherville.

“We’re trying to support both communities,” Archer said of GPRE’s community involvement in both Estherville and Spirit Lake. Locally, GPRE is participating as a booster at Estherville Lincoln Central High School and in Emmet County Relay for Life.

Archer also discussed why GPRE has a better chance of success than Verasun Energy which is finding itself squeezed due to having been locked into high corn prices.

Archer said GPRE is going to try to use blending pumps and so qualify for the federal blending fee. After acquiring Great Lakes Cooperative, GPRE can store up to 20 million bushels of grain, said Archer. As a result, GPRE locked in on corn prices at less than half of what Verasun paid.

Archer also discussed the economics of ethanol production. He said three gallons of ethanol can be produced from a bushel of corn.

“I think that the price of ethanol follows crude oil. As crude oil goes up, ethanol goes up,” said Archer.

Archer also addressed misconceptions about ethanol.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about ethanol,” Archer said, addressing the food-versus-fuel misconception. He said Congressman Steve King made an excellent case at the recent GPRE open house for ethanol. A good measure of the true impact of corn prices on food is that there is just 3 cents worth of corn in a box of cereal.

Archer said GPRE is also doing research on using algae to produce biodiesel. According to the plan, a one-acre pond could produce 11,000 gallons of biodiesel a day.