Millions of bushels of corn grown by area farmers are used each year for ethanol production by One Earth Energy at Gibson City, Ill. General Manager Steve Kelly (above) said the plant, which opened in 2009, has an annual capacity of 100 million gallons.
Millions of bushels of corn grown by area farmers are used each year for ethanol production by One Earth Energy at Gibson City, Ill. General Manager Steve Kelly (above) said the plant, which opened in 2009, has an annual capacity of 100 million gallons.
GIBSON CITY, Ill. — Demand for corn grown in Ford and neighboring counties reached another level since the 2009 opening of an ethanol facility.

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 by truck.

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.”

Quality Control

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 Council.

“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 fermentation.

“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.

RFS Mandate

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 outlook.

“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 said.

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 demand.

“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.”