New ethanol plant at the ready line
Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008 9:10 pm
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
After almost two years in the making, a new $170 million ethanol plant near Obion is about to go operational.
Plans call for the first batch of corn to be ground today, but it could be delayed a few days, according to Mike Fedor, general manager of the facility.
The plant, Ethanol Grain Processors, is located on a 230-acre plot in the vicinity of McDonald Road and Canadian National Railroad about five miles from the town of Obion.
General contractor is the industrial construction giant Fagan Inc. of Granite Falls, Minn. Construction began with “dirt work” — preparing the site — on Dec. 24, 2006. “Hard” construction began May 11, 2007.
Fedor and EGP chief executive officer Jim Patterson were interviewed at the site Wednesday.
Patterson said the construction period is almost over. Fagan’s plans were for the plant to be operational Oct. 16, but the target date was “bumped” to today. That date is also provisional. With good reason.
“We are fine tuning and testing, and in that process we may discover something that will adjust the time line,” Patterson said. “It’s natural and normal for that to happen. It’s almost a day-to-day process to find the point where we want to (start operations).”
Fedor was definitive about the tuning and testing. He said the big ticket issue is performing water trials. “We’re filling a number of our tanks with water,” he said. “We’re doing rechecks on the piping. We started up the thermal oxidizers and the boilers. We have live steam in the plant. It’s all part of the start-up process, but we haven’t ground any corn.
“Typically, when you start to grind corn, that’s when you say the plant is in service, the plant is operational,” Fedor said. “We just need to make sure that all our fermentation tanks, all the process piping and such as that, are leak-tight and ready. I’m confident we’ll be ready to grind within a week, for sure.”
And when engineers give the new system the green light, it will be a red-letter day for both EGP and Obion County.
The EGP plant is not Fedor’s first time at the dance, so to speak. He’s a veteran of such engineering. He and plant manager Mike Blickenstaff will be the on-site officials in charge of the new plant.
Blickenstaff is a native of Indiana; he joined EGP in December 2007.
Fedor hails from Pennsylvania; he joined EGP Aug. 11.
Neither man is a newcomer to the burgeoning ethanol industry. “I’ve been to California, Iowa,
Arizona, back to California, then to Ohio and then to Tennessee the last few years,” Fedor said.
Fedor said the EGP plant is rated to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year and may well exceed that figure. It is also rated to produce hundreds of thousands of tons of a byproduct known as DDGS, or “Dried Distillers Grain Solubles,” often referred to as “DDG.”
Ethanol, a liquid, has several uses, primarily as an additive to gasoline.
DDGS, a solid, is measured in tons per day. It is used primarily in making animal feed.
“When we grind the corn, we only ferment the carbohydrates, the starches in the corn,” Fedor said. “So that leaves the fats, the proteins and the fiber. They remain as solids and pass right through the system. We separate that out, pull out the alcohol and we dry the remaining solid material.”
Where does the ethanol go? Where does the DDGS go?
“The ethanol can go anywhere,” he said. “We’ll load out part of it in rail cars, and it can be shipped anywhere in the country to various customers, as is the case with DDGS.”
The plant will employ a workforce of about 50, Fedor said. It will be a mix of skilled and unskilled workers. Examples of unskilled workers are material handlers who load both wet and dry DDGS on trucks and rail cars. “We don’t dry 100 percent,” he said.
He said EGP welcomes all applications for employment. Anyone interested is requested not to visit the site to file an application, but go to the Tennessee Career Center located in downtown Union City.
When the plant goes operational, it will be “doing its thing” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Fedor said. “We will have two operating crews per day. Each crew will work a 12-hour shift,” he said.
Corn, of course, is the lifeblood of EGP and other ethanol plants popping up in mid-America. At the plant site, construction of four huge and very high grain silos that tower above the rural landscape is complete. The silos are already in service.
Fedor said EGP has been working with local farmers to purchase their corn. “So we’ve been bringing in corn. We have almost a million bushels on site now, stored in those four big silos,” he said.
A million bushels? How long will that last?
“At full rate, we will grind 100,000 bushels a day,” he said. “So a million bushels will last maybe two weeks.”
“Bring in some more. We have a pretty good stream of corn coming in here every day,” he said. He has seen the market price of corn fluctuate from about $7 a bushel last spring to about $4 a bushel today.
EGP has moved from its temporary headquarters, a house trailer, to a new administrative building that provides several spaces to meet needs — a reception area, a meeting room, a training room, a kitchen, rest rooms and various offices.
It also has a corn receiving station where a clerk is in visual and audible contact with truckers arriving loaded and ready to unload. A long probe set up on an apparatus at the stop point outside dips into each load and takes a small sample. The probe also detects the moisture content of each load of corn and records the data. The tolerance level for moisture in a load of corn is 15 percent.
The training room would be a prize anywhere in corporate America. Equipped with overhead projectors and a huge screen, it can accommodate 24 “students” at a time for management to get a message to the workforce. If need be, tables can be removed and 50 chairs brought in, thereby reaching the entire workforce at one time.
And there is a spacious large room intended for a special need — an emergency situation.
“This thing is reinforced with steel and concrete on six sides,” Patterson said. “We call it our ‘safe’ room. It’s for times of emergencies such as tornado warnings. It’ll be a shelter for our office staff.”
Patterson said plant personnel are surrounded by built-in concrete and steel structures. “But we felt we needed some added protection for the administration building,” he said.
Patterson reported that EGP has merged with Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. of Omaha, Neb. Green Plains shareholders approved the merger on Oct. 10; EGP shareholders approved the merger on Oct. 7. The merger was effective as of Oct. 15.
“We have four operating plants, including this one, that will produce a total of 330 million gallons of ethanol a year,” he said. “This will make us the second largest ‘pure play’ — one and only one product — ethanol producer in the country.”
Patterson said the EGP plant is a new commercial resident here in Obion County and as such wants to put its best foot forward. “We want to be a good neighbor,” he said. “We can’t offer the public a tour of the plant just yet, but we hope to prove ourselves a good neighbor. We’ll provide jobs, be a purchasing source for locally grown corn and increase the county’s tax revenues.”