GIBSON CITY, Ill. — Demand for corn grown in Ford and
neighboring counties reached another level since the 2009 opening of an ethanol
One Earth Energy uses about 39 million bushels of corn
annually from producers within a 50-mile radius to meet its capacity production
of 100 million gallons of ethanol.
The plant has 50 full-time employees and also produces
320,000 tons of distillers’ dried grain with solubles. Two years ago, it added
back-end oil separation capabilities and now produces 2 million pounds of corn
oil from locally-grown corn.
About 85 percent of the corn is delivered to One Earth
Energy by truck and the remainder by rail. Approximately 95 percent of the
ethanol is transported to market by rail, and 98 percent of the DDGS is shipped
Ethanol production efficiency has improved to the point
where a bushel of corn will produce 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 15 to 16 pounds
of DDGS for livestock feed.
“The efficiency has come from the innovation of better
enzymes that convert that starch to sugars, and there have been some
enhancements as far as the mechanical milling of corn into finer microns,” said
Steve Kelly, One Earth Energy general manager.
“The more we can do mechanically upfront the less the
enzymes have to do to finish that product.”
The production process begins and ends with a focus on
quality. Each truck load of corn is sampled and graded, and the DDGS byproduct
doesn’t leave the plant without a certificate of analysis.
“On a weekly basis, our individual customers ask for a
sampling to do some third-party verifications,” Kelly said.
“We typically are sending out samples on our own just to
verify what quality we’re putting out. By rule of the Department of Agriculture,
every load that goes out of here has a certificate of analysis to provide a food
analysis of that product.”
The ethanol is frequently sold to middlemen with facilities
where it moves from railcar to truck and on to a blend facility.
“The only direct end-user we sell to retail-wise is
Marathon,” Kelly said.
A majority of the DDGS byproduct from Gibson City eventually
ends up as livestock feed in the Far East.
Southeast Asia’s 2013 DDGS imports increased from 2012 and
totaled more than 1 million metric tons of DDGS from the U.S. It appears that
2014 is on track for even more gains, as January’s 110,112 tons already have
surpassed January 2013’s 93,304 tons, according to the U.S. Grains
“In our position here, while there aren’t a lot of consumers
of distillers in this area because of the livestock (numbers), we see the
distiller product go to the overseas market,” Kelly said.
“We’re selling more of a refined feed to them with better
conversion. They really don’t want the starch, but they want the protein and the
fat out of this, which is what we’re concentrating in this conversion process of
“Millions of tons of distillers are now part of the export
business, which helps our balance of trade.”
Most of One Earth Energy’s DDGS is destined for China,
Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“That area of the world is improving their diet
significantly, and the more they get, the more they want,” Kelly said.
The U.S. is producing about 13.5 billion gallons of ethanol
annually that directly replaces oil-based gasoline.
Ethanol not only reduces the amount of crude oil that needs
to be refined, it also bolsters the overall agriculture industry.
Kelly said it improves land values and farmers’ financial
“In the past there was a lot of government subsidization to
keep the farmer financially sound in the country, and now they don’t have that
anymore because the demand for corn has raised the price of corn to levels where
these guys can afford to raise corn and soybeans and make a living from it,” he
The higher-valued product also benefits those employed with
equipment manufacturing companies and other agriculture-related businesses.
“A lot of jobs are related to this business today, and it’s
much bigger story than just ethanol into gasoline,” Kelly said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering a
move to reduce the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard statutory levels for ethanol
from 14.4 billion gallons to 13 billion. No final ruling has been made.
Kelly said even if EPA decides to drop the RFS standard for
ethanol it doesn’t mean the plant’s production would be reduced due to export
“It’s just like any other commodity out here, we’re all part
of a world market today, and the current export numbers are probably the biggest
that we’ve done since ethanol has been exported,” he said.
“There’s an assumption that the cap will be lowered. That
was early speculation, and there was a lot of pressure by many groups out that
that thought that should be reduced.”
“However, I think now that EPA is analyzing this, the
speculation is we’ll either hold those gallons firm or actually increase the
mandate. Until they cast their final decision, we don’t know, but that’s the
current thinking out of Washington right now,” he said.
“The only change in that might be the make-up of it where
the cellulosic produced gallons can’t meet the mandate just because the
technology isn’t allowing that to occur right now. But I think in general the
corn-produced gallons will stay the same.”