E-commerce streamlines ethanol transportation

By Matt Soberg | November 14, 2011

Norfolk Southern Corp. reports that a new transload system decreased the time of operations from an average of 90 minutes to just 30 minutes in its first year of use at its Alexandria, Va., facility.

Norfolk Southern  streamlined its ethanol supply chain in the East with a virtual inventory database system that includes information accessible in real-time for customers, who include 22 ethanol plants producing 2.16 billion gallons of ethanol annually. 

First implemented in Oct. 2010, the system comingles ethanol shipments from numerous customers, thereby expediting transloading operations by enabling trucks to access ethanol from any rail car. “The management and delivery system can cut in the half the time it takes to transload shipments at Thoroughbred Bulk Transfer facilities,” according to Norfolk Southern. 

The system increases scheduling flexibility and product accessibility and decreases time in transport, according to Charlie Brenner, the company’s assistant vice president, market systems and development. “We visualize it as a ‘rolling storage tank’ that streamlines access to a customer’s ethanol supply,” he added.  

In addition to increasing transload efficiency, the system offers real-time information for customers including ethanol inventory tracking, monitoring of shipments in transit and access to historical data.  Norfolk Southern’s e-commerce team developed this web-based component, which is called the NS Ethanol Dashboard.  The system also alerts customers of inventory levels through monitored operations.

Customers have successfully utilized the inventory system, including Osage Inc., an independent ethanol distributor in the Southeast U.S., which began using the dashboard at the beginning of 2011. Wes Spruill, chief financial officer, said commingling inventory has improved efficiency and reduced charges significantly for his company. 

Norfolk Southern reports some impressive numbers for ethanol shipments utilizing the new system, including more than 150 million gallons of ethanol having been transloaded at the company’s TBT facilities at Doraville, Ga., Pineville, N.C., Alexandria, Va., and Petersburg, Va. The company plans to implement the system at the Pottstown, Pa., and Roanoke, Va., locations in early 2012.