On-Site, Automated and Efficient

FROM THE OCTOBER ISSUE: Editor Lisa Gibson previews the magazine, including feature articles about California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, automation, plant morale and more.
By Lisa Gibson | September 07, 2018

Just before writing this ed note, I attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a brand new ethanol plant right here in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It’s noteworthy for a few reasons: The plant’s feedstock is comprised of waste streams from local sugar beet, potato and pasta processors; it’s one of only three greenfield ethanol plants under construction in the country; and, as Ethanol Producer Magazine is an international publication, I rarely get to cover things in my own backyard. That last one’s personal, but still relevant.

There’s so much to be excited about. You can find more details on the plant itself in the Business Briefs on page 12, but I think one of the most interesting facets of the project ties in with our cover story: Red River Biorefinery will sell its ethanol in California because the benefits of the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard outweigh the costs to get it there.

California has created a model policy and, as you might be aware, has already met its 2020 emissions reduction targets. Now, the state legislature is moving forward with an even more aggressive plan to further reduce emissions. There’s talk of such programs in states and regions all over the country, and even into Canada. The developers of Red River Biorefinery would be onboard for a similar goal here in the Midwest, representing a closer market. Find out more about the LCFS and how revamping it could affect ethanol markets, starting on page 14.

We’re in an age of increased automation, and ethanol plants certainly aren’t falling behind. The feature starting on page 20 explores some of the new distributed control system technologies out there and how the half of our industry without completely replaced DCSs are targeting specific areas and extending the lives of their systems. One source notes that skilled operators still are key, using a dynamite cruise control analogy.

On page 30, we tackle plant morale. I’m told morale can be tough to maintain in an ethanol plant, but a few are doing something right. We draw on the expertise of Midwest AgEnergy LLC—the Workplace of the Year winner in Ethanol Producer Magazine’s 2018 Ethanol Producer Awards—in keeping employees happy and engaged. It seems rewards, inclusion, education and opportunities for advancement are common tools.

Finally, the laboratory feature at the end of this issue addresses the increasing pressure on ethanol plant labs, as the industry strives for more efficiency. Commercial labs say business is booming because plants are outsourcing sample testing to preserve their own equipment. It’s an interesting topic that resulted from interviews conducted for a different purpose and a different hook. So, we changed course to report it. Follow ethanol labs’ efficiency trajectory on page 38.

Efficiency, of course, is vital and even the technology developer for Red River Biorefinery says the plant will showcase the most efficient setup for his sugar beet-waste-to-ethanol system. It’s in use in Poland now, but he hopes the Grand Forks plant will serve as a model for more installations in the U.S.

I hope so, too. Ethanol plants are a boon to local and regional economies. And it might mean more on-site, backyard coverage for quick-turnaround web stories here at EPM.

Author: Lisa Gibson