Once Again, it's about efficiency

By Tom Bryan | August 06, 2012

Tight margins probably have your plant back on a yield maximization quest. Producing “efficient gallons” is the name of the game this summer. However, that wasn’t the case in the fourth quarter of 2011 when your plant was probably running as hard as it could, regardless of yield, pushing out as many gallons as possible. The last eight months have illustrated how corn and ethanol price volatility require today’s ethanol plants to not just know how, but when, to pursue yield maximization.

As Holly Jessen’s page 32 feature, “Optimal Yield: A Moving Target,” points out, it is critical to have the best available tools, technology and data at your disposal when margins dictate efficiency over volume. Jessen’s piece explains how Illinois River Energy LLC has coupled smart equipment investments—from grind to distributive control—with advanced yield modeling and margin management techniques to improve its ability to time and implement its yield maximization campaigns. The result: seeing the 2012 ethanol glut before most plants did. “We knew right away when we started running the numbers that running max gallons in January made no sense from a financial point of view,” says Illinois River’s Neal Jakel. “We’ve been running for yield optimization since the first of the year, and still are today.”

But as we learn in this month’s cover story, even the most efficiently produced ethanol leaving your fermenters may not end up in your storage tanks. Sue Retka Schill’s page 39 feature, “Stop Loss,” sheds light on the longtime question of how much ethanol is lost in your facilities’ various process streams. The results are noteworthy, according to ICM, which conducted testing at six ethanol plants and discovered that ethanol losses are occurring at significant levels in the CO2 scrubber bottoms, cook water tanks and other places. The data is intriguing. According to ICM, about 1,600 gallons of ethanol are lost daily at an average 50 MMgy ethanol plant. Quickly doing the math on this newfound revenue loss category, ICM has developed an affordable process rerouting fix that’s worth a look.

Your fourth quarter production strategy probably looks much different than your pedal-to-the-metal approach of a year ago. There are times for efficiency-be-dammed gallons and times for precision and yield optimization. Now is the latter.