Low risk and reward

The August issue of EPM has a plant optimization theme and contains stories about new technologies, plant trials, a profile of an energy systems chief and more, writes Tom Bryan of BBI International.
By Tom Bryan | July 23, 2015

Ethanol producers who host new product trials can get perks in exchange for their accommodations. Plants willing to test out and scale-up novel things are given opportunities to be first to market with new wares, for example, and they sometimes land discounts on future product purchases and licensing fees. These rewards haven’t always been risk-free, of course—stories of trials gone wrong exist—but sophisticated planning has made serious blunders rare. In “Trialing Innovation,” EPM Senior Editor Susanne Retka Schill reports on how today’s ethanol industry vendors have turned product and technology trials into relatively low-risk opportunities for producers to boost throughput or make efficiency gains. The story explains that ethanol plants and their vendor partners usually take several weeks or months to plan trials, establish patent protections and gather baseline data. Vendors understand that producers will host trials only when the upside is clear and the risk is low.   

Demonstration-scale testing comes up again in our feature, which takes a look at debottlenecking applications aimed at helping producers accommodate greater throughput. In “Drilling into Distillation, Dehydration,” Retka Schill reports on four new technologies designed to enable ethanol plants to free up their molecular sieves, or replace them altogether, to accommodate greater flow rates and more. 

Our cover story, highlights one ethanol plant employee who has helped drive continuous change at an Upper Midwest facility. In “Operations Leader Optimizes Aging Plant,” EPM Managing Editor Holly Jessen introduces us to Bob Jewell, the veteran energy systems chief at Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. in Benson, Minnesota. With nearly two decades of cross-disciplined ethanol plant experience under his belt, Jewell is currently overseeing the installation of a new high-efficiency boiler at CVEC. Like so many optimization projects Jewell has been a part of at CVEC, the new energy center will add yet another layer of improved reliability and efficiency to the plant’s operations. 

With many of our readers attending the American Coalition for Ethanol’s annual conference in Omaha, Nebraska, in mid-August, we offer a timely update on the Midwest-based ethanol trade organization. In “ACE Dreams Big, Values Grassroots,” Jessen lays out the group’s clear-eyed vision for market growth. ACE, as they say, is good people.   

Finally, I want to thank everyone who attended this year’s International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in Minneapolis. What a show! With over 2,000 people, including 500-plus producers, in attendance this year, it was the best-attended FEW since 2009. That robust turnout says a lot about the state of our industry—committed and steadfast. Check out the photos here.

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief