Industry Accolades

FROM THE JUNE ISSUE: In their second year, the Ethanol Producer Awards honor worthy people, projects and partnerships.
By Lisa Gibson | May 16, 2019

The ethanol industry is full of noteworthy developments, plants and teams. Ethanol Producer Magazine’s Ethanol Producer Awards recognize just a few of those each year. In the areas of culture, collaboration, projects, leadership and philanthropy, EPM’s editorial staff and editorial board do our best to choose the most deserving nominations out of our pool of candidates. For the second year, we believe we’ve done that.

Here are the 2019 Ethanol Producer Award winners.

Project of the Year
Overall Scale, Complexity and Impact 
Flint Hills Resources Fairmont, Fairmont, Nebraska
Mark Murphy, general manager for ingredients at Flint Hills Resources, says high-protein feed is the next evolution of dried distillers grains. It’s fitting, then, that the company is helping lead the ethanol industry into that space. In 2018, Flint Hills Resources Fairmont installed Fluid Quip Process Technologies’ Maximized Stillage Coproduct system, producing NexPro feed. Flint Hills sells NexPro into four continents and is looking to expand into more, Murphy says.

“The challenge is we’ve got limited production right now,” he says. “It’s a good problem to have right now.”
The project, with a price tag of about $50 million, consisted of a new protein separation building, two ring driers, silo storage modification and a new loading system for rail and trucks. The system started operating in August 2018, within its original time frame goals and budget, after just over 12 months of construction and commissioning time.  

Flint Hills worked with universities and nutritionists, conducting feed trials and researching nutritional needs, Murphy says. “It’s been 2.5 years in the making. How do we get more knowledgeable around what customers value and where the big pockets of demand are going to be?
“It’s exciting for the industry.

“Simply put, we want to extract every valuable product we can from each kernel of corn. So we not only optimize our operations to be more efficient, but we try to find ways to create new, valuable products. Using the MSC equipment allows us to continue producing DDGs, while increasing corn oil production and creating NexPro.”

It’s precisely when margins are tight that it’s important to create new value from existing operations, Murphy says. “The world demand for protein for the poultry, swine, aqua and pet food markets already exists and will grow in the decades ahead. We see a market need, and we plan to fill it.” Opportunities for smaller producers exist, as well, he says. The market is tremendous.

Murphy says Flint Hills wants to be a partner for other producers.
Flint Hills is also installing MSC at its Shell Rock, Iowa, plant.

Collaboration of the Year
Technology Advancement through Partnership 
Homeland Energy Solutions and Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits 
A good collaboration is based on trust, willingness to listen to each other, and drawing on existing expertise, say Tera Stoughtenger, a technical team manager with Lallemand, and Francois Van Zyl, a Lallemand director of technical services. Lallemand completed a fermentation project with Homeland Energy Solutions, in Lawler, Iowa, in 2018. The project implemented new propagators to replace the direct pitch process at the plant.

Homeland implemented a direct pitch process 10 years ago, about three months after it started up, says Kevin Howes, general manager. “As technology has evolved immensely in 10 years, so has the cost of the yeast,” he says. Switching back to propagators would bring a savings of about $3 million with a one-year payback, Howes says. Homeland turned to Lallemand to design the ideal propagator. “We’ve been using them for yeast now for several years. I am on a first-name basis with everyone starting from Angus (Ballard, Lallemand president) all the way down through the organization. Our plant and they have worked closely together for many years. Optimization every day, all day with them.”

The system includes conditioning tanks to ensure healthy yeast that multiply cell mass before being introduced to fermentation, Van Zyl says. The idea is to promote more aggressive cell mass growth, which lowers the risk of infection in fermentation. The benefit, he says, is fermentation time can be long or short.
“The relationship between us and Homeland really has paid off in dividends,” Van Zyl says. “The fact that we can relate closely to really see the future. We have worked in the past together and have trust. We’re all trying to accomplish the best performance. But the relationship, we can classify that as a partnership. We are trying to all accomplish the same goal.”

Stoughtenger says, “Both sides had unobstructed and free-flowing communication to all levels of both organizations, which was key in hitting the timeline as well as guaranteeing success of the new propagation project. Homeland’s team project management was top-drawer for this project and made the whole process a pleasure to assist with.”

“With the right people on the right side, who come to the table without egos and truly want what’s best, great things happen,” Howes says.

Exceptional Board Leadership,
Planning and Vision  
Heartland Corn Products,
Winthrop, Minnesota
The nomination for Heartland Corn Products reads: “The Heartland board is one of the most strategically focused and unified boards we have met/worked with. Every step they take to enhance their facility is carefully thought out, planned and executed with precision. They are open to all ideas and work through and select those which positively impact the facility, the employees, the shareholders and the community. They do not hold preconceived notions of what an ethanol facility should be. They respect each other’s opinions and views and find a pathway forward that takes into account each team member’s unique skill set and contribution to the facility.”

Gary Anderson, Heartland CEO, agrees. “It is my experience working with the board. That’s who they are.”
Heartland is owned by its farmers and does not buy outside corn, Anderson says. “We typically don’t get awards,” he adds. “We are a closed cooperative.

“Ethanol’s not in our name. We are really a marketing cooperative that happens to grind corn and make it into corn oil, DDGs and ethanol. Our sole mission is to take a bushel of corn from our members and give them as much value as we can.”

Heartland started producing ethanol in about 1994, as a 10 MMgy plant. Today, the plant produces more than 110 MMgy. “We were one of the first ethanol plants in the state of Minnesota,” Anderson says. “So they were visionaries in building a plant in an industry that didn’t exist at that time. They’ve got courage, they’ve got vision, and continued to reinvest in their business, and changing with the times, and not getting stuck in ‘this is what we’ve always done.’”

Heartland has two plants on its site, built in 1994 and 2006. “We’ve been modernizing the 1994 plant and positioning it for the future,” Anderson says.

Four of the eight board members are original board members, and a fifth just retired in March, he says.  “So they have been through every single phase of this industry from when it didn’t exist to the early stages of the tax credits, to the two phases of the RFS, to this. So this is a board that’s extremely knowledgeable and has a tremendous amount of experience and has passion for this industry.”

Outstanding Employment and Management Practices
Arkalon Ethanol, Liberal, Kansas
“About five years ago, I had run across a company called Marshall Institute and their focus was on preventative and predictive maintenance,” says Dusty Turner, chief operating officer for Conestoga Energy, the parent company of Arkalon Ethanol. “We were eight years into operations at that point, and it was clear to me that our biggest issue was unpredicted downtime. And we had worked on morale, identified our culture, had identified our core values, but we still just weren’t quite getting it. We still weren’t really being as consistent as we needed to be in a really competitive market.”

The Marshall Institute is focused on maintenance excellence, total process reliability (TPR), predictive and preventative maintenance. “Our problem was not necessarily our people or anything like that—our problem was our plant.”

Arkalon was great at fixing problems that arose, but wasn’t proactively managing maintenance, he adds. “We were just very reactive. And with that comes overtime, comes callouts, and when your plant’s not running well, it is extremely hard to keep morale and culture where you need it. And I’m completely convinced that fermentation is a pure reflection of morale and culture.”

Tailoring the process to the plant brought significant success. “We Conestoga-ized it,” Turner says.
“We put it in terms that we could understand. We started with four basic areas, low-hanging fruit with quick wins. Quick wins are what builds confidence in the people and the system.”

The result was streamlined operation. Employees know exactly what their jobs will entail each day, Turner says. “Let’s face it, no matter if you’re working in an ethanol plant, nuclear power plant or at home, nobody likes surprises. Everyone wants to come to work, know what their job is, get it done. Everyone wants to do a good job.”

The system is in place at all three Conestoga plants: Arkalon, Bonanza BioEnergy in Garden City, Kansas, and Diamond Ethanol in Levelland, Texas.

“This program is what runs our business,” Turner says.

“The real credit is held at the plant level,” he adds. “We’re only as good as our employees. All the credit goes to them, their buy-in and their commitment to the TPR. My job is I work for them. I give them all the tools they need to do their job.”

Exemplary Community Service and Support
Marquis Energy-Wisconsin,
Necedah, Wisconsin
This year, Marquis Energy-Wisconsin is offering scholarships to students in the surrounding region. “Marquis wants to see our local youth succeed in achieving their lifelong dreams and this reward will cut down on college expenses and open up doors for students,” says Danielle Anderson, director of public relations and political affairs for Marquis. “The scholarship money is available for nearby students attending universities, community colleges, trade schools and graduate programs.”

The plant has also donated about $60,000 to three area high schools to invest in science, technology, engineering and math programs (STEM).

The plant participates in local fundraisers, charity events, food drives and more, Anderson says. “Marquis Energy-Wisconsin contributes to several worthy causes in the community, including: food pantries, local schools and STEM promotion, agricultural projects and societies, school athletic booster clubs, the local fair and the local FFA chapter, to name a few.”

Employees of the plant also serve as volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and are involved in local schools and churches, she says.

“We’re very proud of our employees. Marquis Energy-Wisconsin values being involved in the local community and having great relationships with our neighbors and farmers that live in the area.”

The nomination for the plant sums it up: “Marquis Energy-Wisconsin exemplifies all of the qualifications for The Good Neighbor Award! Marquis Energy is a strong supporter of the local schools. Not only the schools in Necedah, but also schools in neighboring communities. They support the community, local organizations, food pantries and other worthy causes. Having lived in Necedah my entire life, I know all too well how important it is to have the kind of support that Marquis Energy provides. They are a very caring and supportive company, they are compassionate and eager to champion the cause in times of need.”

Author: Lisa Gibson
Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine