Plants return to production after idle summer

By Craig A. Johnson | October 06, 2009
EPM's biannual fuel ethanol plant map for fall 2009 demonstrates improving conditions for ethanol producers nationwide. Imperative to the ethanol industry's overall well-being, more plants are online and producing than earlier this year. The spring map included 36 U.S. plants that were not producing, accounting for 2.17 billion gallons of annual production capacity. As the markets have begun to correct and commodity prices came back in line with historical averages, the number of U.S. plants not producing ethanol has dropped to 24, representing 1.45 billion gallons of annual production capacity.

As of Sept. 16, total U.S. ethanol production capacity was 11.56 billion gallons from 183 producing ethanol plants. An additional 1.1 billion gallons of capacity is represented by 10 plants currently under construction. At that time, only 169 plants were reported to be producing, with a total capacity of 10.4 billion gallons.

In Canada, the numbers are much more consistent. Between the spring and fall plant maps, one production facility came on line, bringing Canada's total production capacity to 1.4 billion liters per year (approximately 370 MMgy). The Canadian industry, while still significantly smaller than the U.S. industry, reported no plants ceasing production as of Sept. 16. In total, 85 percent of the North American ethanol industry is producing, five percent of the total potential capacity is under construction, and only 10 percent is not producing.

For the first time, the fall plant map includes the scope of the industry build-out between 2002 and 2008. Looking back, between 2002 and 2004, ethanol plant construction in the U.S. represented a month-to-month average of approximately 500 million gallons of potential capacity. EPM's plant construction list over the same time period averaged just 13 plants per month, and 12 plants per year announcing finished construction and operation.

By comparison, from 2005 to 2008, average month-to-month capacity rose to 3.1 billion gallons of potential capacity. The plant construction list averaged 52 plants under construction each month and completions rose to 32 per year. Between 2002 and 2004, the industry added an average production capacity of 344 million gallons per year. From 2005 to 2008, that number leaped to 2 billion gallons per year.

Also included on the fall plant map is a list of the five top producing companies in the fuel ethanol industry. Between March and September, two new companies entered EPM's Top 5 list. Abengoa Bioenergy was replaced by Hawkeye Growth/Hawkeye Renewables in the fourth position and Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. took the fifth place slot from The Andersons Inc. Archer Daniels Midland Co. continues to be North America's largest ethanol producer, followed by Poet LLC and Valero Renewable Fuels LLC, which launched itself into the Top 5 this spring after purchasing most of VeraSun Energy Corp.'s bankrupt plants.

Every subscriber of EPM will receive a complimentary plant map. For additional information on current production levels in the ethanol industry as well as timely plant updates, EPM's plant list and map are available online at