Ethanol plants help drive local farm economy
Henry County has the good fortune to have two ethanol plants call the county home.
Farmers are able to sell their corn directly to the plants. The addition of the ethanol plants to the market expands the options of selling directly to the local elevators, holding grain in storage, and waiting on "the futures" when the market price goes up.
Each year, nearly 100 million bushels of grain roll across the scales between both facilities. Big River Resources in Galva boasts 43 million bushels used per annum, and CHS claims 45 million bushels going into production of ethanol and its associated by-products. Everything from the corn kernel is used, and sent on to various markets worldwide.
The billowing clouds of steam that can be viewed around the plant much of the year are just part of the processing that turns simple corn into assorted fuels and animal feed. The corn comes in, is ground and a mash is created. Enzymes are added to convert the starches to sugar. The mash is cooked, then cooled and transferred to fermenters. Yeast is added and the conversion of sugar to alcohol begins. After fermentation, the resulting liquid referred to as "beer" is separated from the remaining "stillage". The ethanol is distilled and dehydrated, then blended with a denaturant to render it undrinkable. The ethanol is then ready to ship. The stillage is then sent through a centrifuge which separates the solids from the solubles. These co-products become dry distillers grain, and corn oil.
Galva is home to the 180 acre facility of Big River Resources, LLC. Built in April of 2009, it is one of four production facilities owned by the parent company, whose headquarters is in W. Burlington IA. Dyersville IA and Boyceville, WI are home to the other ethanol production plants. Big River also has grain elevators in Monmouth, Edgington, Aldeo, Joy and Gerlaw Illinois to help guarantee the steady supply of grain to feed the process.
Patriot Renewable Fuels completed the Annawan plant in 2008. Properties associated with the plant site cover more than 500 acres.
CHS, Inc. purchased the former Patriot Renewable plant site in June of 2015. CHS is a multifaceted agribusiness company located in Inver Grove Heights, MN. Besides manufacturing ethanol and other renewable fuels, including Cenex, their own branded gasolines, E85 and diesel fuels, CHS is involved in crop production, capital and financial services, and logistics among the varied services provided. CHS serves markets on four continents.
According to sources at Big River, each bushel of corn, weighing 56 pounds, translates to 2.9 gallons of denatured fuel ethanol, .8 pounds of corn oil, and 14.5 pounds of dried distillers grain which will be used for animal feed.
Ethanol is loaded onto rail cars at both facilities. Big River moves the majority of theirs via rail cars at the rate of three unit trains a month, each train consisting of 80 cars, with each car holding 29,000 gallons. The BNSF railroad services this plant. Semi trucks will take ethanol to be used in Illinois markets as well. A small portion of the ethanol produced provides raw material for a sanitizer production facility on site.
CHS produces 130 million gallons of ethanol that is also loaded onto rail cars, with an average of 12 rail cars per day via the Iowa Interstate railroad. It is shipped to the East Coast to be mixed into fuel supplies.
Corn oil from both facilities is shipped via truck to biodiesel facilities across the midwest. It is also used in animal feeds.
The largest by product of this process is the protein-laden, dry distillers grain, or DDG that is loaded into ocean going containers and shipped to Asian markets from CHS. CHS ships 50 containers daily. Big River ships DDG via both container and barges, with about 60% of production marketed locally.
Galva can store 2.6 million bushels of grain on site. CHS has room for 800,000 bushels on site.
Galva employs 59 full time employees. CHS' Annawan plant has 50 employees.
Deb Green, a spokesperson for Big River Resources summed up the process as such, " Corn fields are nature's solar panels. They are naturally removing C02 from the air, thus helping reduce greenhouse gasses. Ethanol plants use corn, making more use and need for nature's solar panels."