Lt. Governor Tina Smith visited POET in Preston on March 24 to learn more about advances and innovations in the production of ethanol and its effect on the economy. With a background in business, Smith was interested in how the state may be a better partner.
General Manager Chris Hanson expressed his enthusiasm about the plant’s production of ethanol and related by products and their positive effects on the economy, especially agriculture. Hanson promoted ethanol as beneficial to the environment, engine health, human health, value, national security, the economy, and agriculture. “Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane fuel that is produced domestically from renewable sources.”
POET has four ethanol plants in Minnesota and a total of 28 across the midwest. Hanson sees gaining market share as the company’s biggest challenge. POET was the largest company by revenue in South Dakota in 2015.
Smith noted that auto manufacturers had predicted problems with the use of ethanol, adding it hasn’t worked out that way. There are now over 600 flex fuel pumps nationwide and 1,100 are expected in the next few years.
Hanson has worked at the Preston plant for 12 years and has been general manager for three years. Forty-four people are employed at the Preston plant.
POET had its beginnings in 1986 on the Broin family farm near Wanamingo, Minn. The family wanted to find an additional way to produce income. They built a small ethanol producing operation, a cobbled together distillery using mostly used equipment.
Hanson said POET is really an agricultural company as it is rooted in agriculture.
Ethanol is marketed as a clean burning alternative to fossil fuels. It reduces dependence on foreign oil. POET biorefining operations are continually reducing the quantity of water and energy inputs needed in the production process. It takes 2.5 gallons of water in the production of a gallon of ethanol. Water is recycled within the plant. Consumers of ethanol reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. The Preston plant is majority farmer owned.
POET plants generate $6 billion of annual revenue and provide 2% of the nation’s fuel supply. It provides tens of thousands of jobs across the country. POET plants provide nearly two billion gallons of ethanol per year. It is head quartered in Sioux Falls, S. Dak.
Hanson considers national security (displacing foreign fuels), economy (millions in economic effect), and environment (replacement of carcinogenic additives blended into gasoline) the three corner stones for ethanol. Hanson explained ethanol is just ethanol, where gasoline has hundreds of components some that are toxic and cancer causing.
With advances in ag technology, corn yields have sky rocketed. The production of biofuels helps to keep agriculture sustainable. Biofuels are another needed market for producers. Fifteen to 16 million bushels of corn go through the Preston plant each year, producing 46 million gallons of ethanol.
Hanson explained that 100% of each kernel of corn is used, there is no waste. POET competes with grain elevators. The starch in corn is converted to sugar then fermented into ethanol. The main by products of ethanol include corn oil, distillers grains, and carbon dioxide gas from fermentation which is captured and turned into a food grade liquid product.. The animal feed is a high quality protein, highly digestible fiber used in rations for swine, dairy, beef, and poultry.
Hanson said total energy consumption by the plant was reduced by 5% last year. This efficiency keeps them competitive. Hanson maintains that ethanol is more economically viable than gasoline.
The Liberty Project, or the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, opened in September 2014 in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Ag residue like corn cobs, leaves, and husks are converted into a renewable fuel.