Front-end fractionation project aims for startup in September

By Holly Jessen | August 20, 2013

Work is ongoing to startup a 7 MMgy ethanol plant in Benton, Ill., that will utilize front-end fractionation system. “This is a very simple plant,” said Steve Vardell, project engineer and project manager. “It is going to be simple to run, it’s going to be easy to control. People ought to come and look at this because the concept is different from what most the plants are.”  

The Mano Metate Grain & Energy Commodities Plant, formally Ag Energy Resources, never really reached full production after starting up in 2008 and was ultimately shut down in 2010, Vardell said, who served as the plant’s designer for the original owner. The economic situation of 2008 hit hard and the company never really recovered. “The plant run,” he said. “There wasn’t much wrong with the plant, (the company) just couldn’t get the money to operate it.”

Currently a skeleton crew is cleaning things up, upgrading the grain handling system and replacing some equipment damaged by freezing during the shutdown, such as a couple of heat exchangers. The goal is to restart the plant, which is in fairly decent shape, by the end of September. “This plant has never been through a shakedown (commissioning,)” he said.

The front-end fractionation is done with a total milling system from Agrex. Although the company has 400 Agrex milling systems processing corn, wheat and rice around the world, this will be the only one operating in the U.S. Using No. 2 field corn, the Mano Metate ethanol plant will process the starch into ethanol while the other fractionated corn products, such as corn grit or corn bran flakes, could potentially be sold into the human consumption market, once the company develops that. By adding a press the ethanol plant could also process corn oil for human consumption. “It’s the closest thing you can get to wet milling, without it being wet milling,” he said.

The plan is to also process some sweet sorghum along with corn, perhaps up to about 25 percent sweet sorghum. Vardell, who has been working in the ethanol industry for 30 years, feels sweet sorghum has a lot of potential as an ethanol feedstock.

By early September the company will start hiring employees. The idea is to hire mainly disabled veterans and use the plant as a job training facility.