Remarkably Innovative, Vigorously Responsible

By Tom Bryan | August 09, 2013

Today, with nearly 80 percent of American ethanol plants extracting corn oil, our industry is a good-size fish in a not-so-big pond. The global demand for corn oil is growing, but is it developing fast enough to meet output and sustain prices? If not, will some producers consider opportunities to convert their corn oil to higher-value coproducts on site? It seems likely.

This month’s page-30 cover story, “Harnessing Corn Oil Power,” by EPM Managing Editor Holly Jessen, focuses on a Kansas-based company demonstrating the viability of co-locating biodiesel or renewable diesel production with ethanol facilities. As Jessen reports, WB Services is now ready to bolt on biodiesel or renewable diesel production capability to any corn ethanol plant that seeks it. Once integrated, the biobased diesel plant would run in tandem with the ethanol plant, relying on the same automation systems, the same infrastructure and essentially the same people. What’s so compelling about this corn-oil-to-higher-value-products offering is the fact that it’s a bolt on to a bolt on—new coproducts from relatively new byproducts—and another illustration of our industry’s ongoing quest to maximize the value of corn.    
From there, we take this issue on an environmental health and safety (EH&S) field trip, examining hazard analysis and recordkeeping, grain storage safety and emergency spill response. The first piece in this EH&S lineup, “Emphasis on Details, Documentation,” on page 36, offers preparedness tips for unannounced OSHA drop ins. In the past three years, nearly 50 U.S. ethanol plants have been spot-visited by OSHA. Some inspections have yielded multiple violations and onerous fines, mostly for misunderstandings over rigorous process safety management rules. In this must-read for anyone responsible for ethanol plant compliance, safety and change management, EPM Senior Editor Sue Retka Schill tells us compliance isn’t just about avoiding process hazards but identifying potential problems and taking steps to prevent them from becoming risks. 

Next, EPM Staff Writer Chris Hanson reports on grain engulfment prevention. Hanson’s story, “Seconds to React,” on page 44, tells us how engulfment happens—unexpectedly and in seconds—and why adequate safety equipment, procedures and rescue training saves lives.    

Hanson continues with a page-50 feature on spill prevention, cleanup and emergency response. “When Spills Happen,” gives us an understanding of how ethanol plant emergency spill response service providers enable producers to prepare for and react to accidental discharges. We learn that responding to spills isn’t just about containment and cleanup but also employee safety and environmental compliance. An ethanol plant’s ability to react on the spot, if and when a spill occurs, is the result of thorough contingency planning and, as always, solid training.