Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
In another sign that the renewable fuels industry in Minnesota is as strong as ever, Al-Corn Clean Fuel has broken ground on an expansion that will take it from its current capacity of 50 million gallons a year, up to 120 million gallons per year.
“We have been planning this for quite a while. It’s very exciting seeing all the earth moving equipment, and all the construction folks are hard at work,” reports Randall Doyal, CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel.
“Originally, when the plant was built 22 years ago, we were a ten million gallon per year plant. Over the years we expanded a few times, to get us to 15, and then to 30 and then to 45 million. We’ve been running at a 50 million gallon per year pace here for the last few years. We are expanding to be more competitive with the larger plants in our industry…So we’ll be at 120 million. There is still room for further growth. That’s what we’ll do. We’ll continue to grow.”
Minnesota is currently the fourth largest ethanol producing state, with 20 plants producing 1.18 billion gallons per year, according to the latest statistics from the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association.
“It’s a fantastic addition,” says Tim Rudnicki, executive director of Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association. “With the modernization of the plant, the product is going to be even cleaner and greener, and it’s going to have an even smaller carbon footprint, as greater efficiencies are realized in the expanded plant. It’s a win for all of us in Minnesota.”
Doyal points out that many critics refer to all corn ethanol plants as “first generation biofuels production,” maintaining a false perception that the industry has somehow stood still.
The increases in efficiency and reductions in carbon footprint pointed out by Doyal and Rudnicki should qualify corn-based ethanol as an advanced biofuel. Al-Corn Clean Fuel currently derives almost three gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. This state-of-the-art fuel reduces the emissions in typical vehicles by thousands of tons of carbon per year.
Al-Corn’s tremendous success is also extremely important to the local economy. When crop prices are strong rural Minnesota sees an economic surge, but when commodity markets fall, the ethanol industry has provided income that has kept many farmers in business.
“It’s about being able to generate the income and passing it through,” says Doyal. “We are building this project from funds we have saved over the years, the cash we have accrued plus some borrowing. Our members don’t have to invest any more, but they are going to receive approximately two and half times the return they were getting before the expansion and modernization project per share. It’s a heck of a good deal.”