More facilities, storage added to handle ethanol production

Farm Forum

Waiting more than two hours to dump corn at the Watertown ethanol plant has frustrated truckers, customers and managers. Time is money. This fall, Glacial Lakes Energy implemented two ventures to alleviate congestion at the company’s locations.

As a result, major expansion projects at Watertown and Mina have made a huge difference in getting trucks in and out of Glacial Lakes ethanol plants, according to Brad Schultz, Director of Commodities and Risk Management for GLE.

Schultz said the board of directors and management teams worked to identify areas for improvement, created a game plan, and began construction of a $12 million grain expansion project earlier this year.

At Watertown, “It (the improvements) did everything we thought it would,” Schultz said. “We barely have enough time to take in the thanks from our customers who appreciate the changes.”

On Monday, Nov. 3, the Watertown plant received a record 390,000 bushels of corn in one day with minimal truck lines, meaning waits of 20 minutes or less. The next day, 378,000 bushels were unloaded, Schultz said.

“None of that would be possible prior to the investments made at the plant,” Schultz said.

The trucks are probed at the new sampling and grading station and then move on to the inbound 120-foot scale. From there, the customers are unloaded on either the west side of the exiting corn bins or directed to the leg on the east side. The state-of-the-art equipment features a new “super pit” which handles 2,500 bushels per hour and the new 30,000 bushel leg which are located north of the old receiving area, which remains operational. All customers weigh out on the new outboard scale on the south edge of the GLE property.

A unique feature uses software to manage truckloads through the process, which makes the entire process simpler and faster for whole facility. More than 1,000 RFID cards were given out this year which is carried in the inbound trucks. The cards are automatically scanned and identified at the different locations through the unloading process. This card enables truckers to remain in their trucks, speeding up the probing, weighing and unloading process.

According to the company, each ‘RFID Card’ is placed in the cab of the truck. When the truck reaches the probing area, the RFID Card is automatically scanned and the driver identified by the Truck Management System. If the driver is delivering on behalf of someone, he/she will use the touch screen to enter the information. The driver stays in his/her truck throughout this process.

In Mina, construction has more than doubled grain bin storage capacity. The two new bins each have a 750,000-bushel capacity. Most importantly, they were ready before corn harvest began.

“It was gratifying to build these facilities before this year’s record corn crop,” Schultz said. “This year’s corn crop is extremely high quality for processing. Moisture levels are lower than last year, most at 17 ½ percent or less, which made it easy to handle.”

Schultz said that the two projects were overdue and went a long way to getting the plant caught up on needed infrastructure. The improvements make customers happy and improve shareholder value.

Schultz said that the BNSF railroad has provided very good service to both plants.

While the price of corn is depressed for farmers, the ethanol plants provide an opportunity to use the corn. The processing facilities have grown and helped focus use within the state.

“I can’t imagine what the price would be for corn if we didn’t have the ethanol plants,” Schultz said. “There are good operating margins for the ethanol industry.”

The project really demanded a lot of dedicated work. Schultz extended thanks to all those who took part in the construction and implementation. The Watertown and Mina plants celebrated by serving a pork chop dinner to the company’s employees.

Glacial Lakes Energy purchases more than 80 million bushels of corn, produces more than 230 million gallons of renewable ethanol and produces more than 600,000 tons of feed products/distillers grains per year.

More ethanol storage

At Redfield, the ethanol plant added additional storage as a way to handle unpredictable movement of rail cars.

Tom Hitchcock, Redfield Energy, said that this summer, two 1-million gallon storage tanks were added to the site. Previously, Redfield Energy had 1 ½ million gallons of storage. With the addition, the company can now store 3 ½ million gallons of ethanol.

Last winter, moving ethanol to markets slowed because of sluggish rail service. The Redfield Company doesn’t have the capacity to fill unit trains, so it ships individual cars. About 35 to 40 rail cars are loaded each week for shipping. Redfield has added 20 percent more rail cars to their fleet, but now that cold weather has hit, it is taking longer to get rail cars back to fill them. Hitchcock said this slowdown is occurring about a month earlier than last year. As 5 million gallons of ethanol are generated in a month at the plant, this will provide important storage so the company can continue to crush corn and generate this renewable fuel.

“We have about 600,000 bushels of corn in the bins,” Hitchcock said. “We crush about 60,000 bushels a day, so we have about 10 days of grind, then will tap into the 2.2 million bushels that we have on the ground. (That will be used up in about 35 to 45 days). Farmers have been fairly reluctant to part with their grain as prices aren’t desirable for them.” Hitchcock said, “Going into winter, the price for corn may have to increase to get farmers to let loose of some of their grain. We want to give the farmers a good price for corn.”

Ethanol markets continue to be strong, and Hitchcock said the company ended with a good year, even though it produced 10 percent less than was planned. “We feel very fortunate for that.”

Right now, Hitchcock said he’s frustrated because there are 38 rail cars with ethanol sitting in Aberdeen waiting for rail space and a locomotive to take them to market. “The delay doesn’t bode well for us to get those rail cars back in a timely manner so we can fill them for customers,” Hitchcock said. When colder weather arrives, trains don’t move as fast.

The company has a good fleet of hopper cars to ship out dried distillers grain. A lot is sold locally, so not much is on the rail in the winter.

Most of the farmers in the area had a good fall and got done before the snow. Yields were good. The good year has been able to provide some dividend distributions to members. Many of them are corn producers. They recognized that ethanol adds value to the corn that they produce.

“We’re in a better shape this winter than last winter,” Hitchcock said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have some headaches along the way.”