Capacity Creep

EPM map cites 6 percent capacity gain from spring 2011
By Holly Jessen | April 11, 2012

Twice a year, Ethanol Producer Magazine publishes an updated Fuel Ethanol Plant Map, which includes information about both existing ethanol plants and projects under development. The latest plant map—mailed with the May issue—shows a steady, small increase in capacity among U.S. ethanol plants. A year ago, the map showed 14.31 billion gallons in capacity, which grew by about 3 percent by the fall map, and by another 3 percent from fall to this spring―it now shows 15.19 billion gallons. To clarify, this number includes idled plants, a few of which have been idled for well over a year. Plants stay on the map until it has been verified the facility has been dismantled.

Much of that capacity creep is occurring in the 10 top producing states, which saw a 330 MMgy increase in capacity from spring to fall ’11 and another 201 MMgy increase from last fall to this spring, a 2.7 percent and 1.6 percent increase respectively. The total increase from a year ago to last fall was 436 million gallons and from fall to this spring, 439 million gallons. From the 2011 spring map to the 2012 spring map only two ethanol plants came online. Both Aventine Renewable Energy-Mount Vernon LLC and Hereford Renewable Energy LLC are plants for which construction had been halted and started up again. The remaining capacity increases can be accounted for as ethanol producers ratchet up production numbers with efficiency gains. 

The list of U.S. plants under construction went though some changes from the fall plant map to the current plant map. Aventine’s Aurora West facility was listed as under construction. The plant was completed but not commissioned, and as construction is no longer active at the site, it was flipped to the proposed plant list. Of the three remaining starch/sugar plants on the under construction list, AltEn LLC and Aventine/Riverland Biofuels facilities, both previously operated, are now under new ownership and work is ongoing to upgrade and restart them. Renewable Energy Technologies LLC, on the other hand, a 2.2 MMgy beverage, food processing waste-to-ethanol facility is a brand-new facility expected to come online this summer.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. takes the lead in top ethanol producers once again, reporting 1.72 billion gallons of production capacity. ADM doesn’t report individual plant capacities, so the plant map reflects a total number rather than individual plant capacities. ADM’s capacity includes its rather substantial maximum wet mill capacity, where presumably a large portion of the starch fraction is converted to products other than ethanol.

Given that unknown ADM fuel ethanol number, Poet LLC will most likely continue to carry the standard as the nation’s largest dry mill ethanol producer at 1.699 billion gallons. Third largest is Valero Renewable Fuels at 1.2 billion gallons and fourth is Green Plains Renewable Energy at 740 MMgy. If you add the capacity of the 78 ethanol plans run by the top 10 producers, it comprises half the U.S. ethanol industry’s capacity, or 7.54 billion gallons.

Corn still leads the pack in first-generation ethanol plants under development, feeding 861 million gallons of corn-only plants and another 250 million gallons using corn and stover and other cellulosic feedstocks. In cellulosic ethanol project development, all forms of woody biomass lead the feedstock choice at 174 MMgy of the existing, under construction and proposed projects on the spring map, or roughly 42 percent. Corn stover and cobs and municipal solid waste are the next most popular at about 20 percent each, or 80 MMgy and 78 MMgy respectively. —Susanne Retka Schill, Holly Jessen