2024 May Ethanol Producer Magazine

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MAY 2024 www.ethanolproducer.com PAGE 30 Eight States Cleared For Year-Round E15, Nationwide Solution Still In the Works PLUS DCS Vendor Couples Experience with Top Tech PAGE 16 Next-Level ERP Systems, Data Management PAGE 24 FILLING UP ALL SUMMER
#FEW24 @ethanolmagazine Produced By June 10-12, 2024 MINNEAPOLIS 40th ANNUAL World ’s Lar gest Ethanol Conferenc e 866-746-8385 | service@bbiinternational.com Where Producers Meet FuelEthanolWorkshop.com Join Nearly 2,200 Professionals Focused on Ethanol and Biofuel Production Multiple co-located events included with registration Producers Attend for Free Focused Sessions Business Connections Event Social Media Site with Presentations Food & Drink Included Why You Should Attend the FEW Co-located & Preconference Events REGISTER TODAY CONNECT WITH YOUR AUDIENCE 600+ Biofuels Producers in At t endanc e


EDITOR'S NOTE Automating Higher Performance By
VIEW FROM THE HILL Dead Wrong About E85 By
GLOBAL SCENE U.S. Grains Council Supports Biofuel-Based Decarbonization Initiatives Worldwide By Mackenzie Boubin
BUSINESS BRIEFS 43 MARKETPLACE Ethanol Producer Magazine: (USPS No. 023-974) May 2024, Vol. 30, Issue 5. Ethanol Producer Magazine is published monthly by BBI International. Principal Office: 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. Periodicals Postage Paid at Grand Forks, North Dakota and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Ethanol Producer Magazine/Subscriptions, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, North Dakota 58203. Contents ON THE COVER Eight Midwest states now have federal approval to allow E15 sales year-round—but not until 2025. For proponents of the stepped-up blend, the regulatory victory is bittersweet, and their sights are set on a larger goal: a nationwide, permanent solution. PHOTO: IOWA CORN MAY 2024 VOLUME 30 ISSUE 5 16 24 30 FEATURES 16 CONTROLS Innovation In Automation Trident applies experience to best available DCS tech By Katie Schroeder 24 BUSINESS Taking Producers Beyond ERP software pairs commodity, financial management tools By Katie Schroeder 30 MARKET Within Grasp: Getting Year-Round E15 Done
states cleared for summer use, national solution still being sought By Luke Geiver 38 PROCESS A Proposal To Press A little-known alternative to centrifugal decanters By Luke Geiver 38
Tom Bryan 8


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Upcoming Events

2024 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo June 10-12, 2024

Minneapolis Convention Center | Minneapolis, MN (866) 746-8385 | www.fuelethanolworkshop.com

Celebrating its 40th year, the FEW provides the ethanol industry with cutting-edge content and unparalleled networking opportunities in a dynamic business-to-business environment. As the largest, longest running ethanol conference in the world, the FEW is renowned for its superb programming—powered by Ethanol Producer Magazine—that maintains a strong focus on commercialscale ethanol production, new technology, and near-term research and development. The event draws more than 2,000 people from over 31 countries and from nearly every ethanol plant in the United States and Canada.

2024 Carbon Capture & Storage Summit June 10-12, 2024

Minneapolis Convention Center | Minneapolis, MN (866) 746-8385 | www.fuelethanolworkshop.com

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide in underground wells has the potential to become the most consequential technological deployment in the history of the broader biofuels industry. Deploying effective carbon capture and storage at biofuels plants will cement ethanol and biodiesel as the lowest carbon liquid fuels commercially available in the marketplace. The Carbon Capture & Storage Summit will offer attendees a comprehensive look at the economics of carbon capture and storage, the infrastructure required to make it possible and the financial and marketplace impacts to participating producers.

2024 North American SAF Conference & Expo

September 11-13, 2024

Saint Paul RiverCentre | Saint Paul, MN (866) 746-8385 | www.safconference.com

The North American SAF Conference & Expo, produced by SAF Magazine, in collaboration with the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) will showcase the latest strategies for aviation fuel decarbonization, solutions for key industry challenges, and highlight the current opportunities for airlines, corporations and fuel producers. The North American SAF Conference & Expo is designed to promote the development and adoption of practical solutions to produce SAF and decarbonize the aviation sector.

2024 National Carbon Capture Conference & Expo

November 19-20, 2024

Saint Paul RiverCentre | Saint Paul, MN (866) 746-8385 | www.nationalcarboncaptureconference.com

The National Carbon Capture Conference & Expo is a two-day event designed specifically for companies and organizations advancing technologies and policy that support the removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from all sources, including fossil fuel-based power plants, ethanol production plants and industrial processes, as well as directly from the atmosphere. The program will focus on research, data, trends and information on all aspects of CCUS with the goal to help companies build knowledge, connect with others, and better understand the market and carbon utilization.

ETHANOLPRODUCER.COM | 5 2024 Int'l Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo 3 2024 Nat'l Carbon Capture Conference & Expo 32 2024 North American SAF Conference & Expo 14 AGI 40 ArrowUp 21 Beyond (a Christianson Company) 27 BOSS Railcar Movers 13 Bulk Conveyors, Inc. 42 CTE Global, Inc. 2 D3MAX LLC 22-23 Fagen Inc. 48 Fluid Quip Mechanical 12 Fluid Quip Technologies, LLC 36 Growth Energy 26 Hydro-Thermal Corporation 28 ICM, Inc. 9 IFF, Inc. 15 Indeck Power Equipment Co. 20 Jacobs Global 19 Kelvion 34 Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits 7 Mole Master Services Corporation 35 NLB Corp. 11 Novonesis 37 Phibro Ethanol 46 POET LLC 45 Sicgil Industrial Gases Limited 18 Trucent 29 Victory Energy Operations, LLC. 33 WINBCO 41 Zee Loffier 44
Ringneck Energy Walter Wendland Little Sioux Corn Processors Steve Roe Commonwealth Agri-Energy Mick Henderson Aemetis Advanced Fuels Eric McAfee Western Plains Energy Derek Peine Front Range Energy Dan Sanders Jr. Advertiser Index COPYRIGHT © 2024 by BBI International Customer Service Please call 1-866-746-8385 or email us at service@bbiinternational.com. Subscriptions Subscriptions to Ethanol Producer Magazine are free of charge to everyone with the exception of a shipping and handling charge for anyone outside the United States. To subscribe, visit www.EthanolProducer.com or you can send your mailing address and payment (checks made out to BBI International) to: Ethanol Producer Magazine Subscriptions, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. Back Issues, Reprints and Permissions Select back issues are available for $3.95 each, plus shipping. Article reprints are also available for a fee. For more information, contact us at 866-7468385 or service@bbiinternational.com. Advertising Ethanol Producer Magazine provides a specific topic delivered to a highly targeted audience. We are committed to editorial excellence and high-quality print production. To find out more about Ethanol Producer Magazine advertising opportunities, please contact us at 866-746-8385 or service@bbiinternational.com. Letters to the Editor We welcome letters to the editor. Send to Ethanol Producer Magazine Letters to the Editor, 308 2nd Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203 or email to editor@bbiinternational.com. Please include your name, address and phone number. Letters may be edited for clarity and/or space. TM Please recycle this magazine and remove inserts or samples before recycling

Automating Higher Performance

Being able to problem solve, interpret client needs and facilitate change are core competencies for most ethanol plant service providers, but especially those that handle distributed control systems (DCS). Powerful technology must be done right. The DCS of a modern biorefinery is, after all, the brain of the facility—its intelligence center. Through it, everything from liquefaction to fermentation to drying is controlled. In fact, one skilled operator sitting before a bank of monitors in the control room is, in effect, at the helm of the plant.

That’s a lot of responsibility, not only for plant operators but DCS engineers. When the operation of an entire facility is on the line, experience matters. Trident Automation, a Wisconsin-based DCS provider, has been doing ethanol plant DCS installations and maintenance for over two decades, growing from a three-man shop into a 45-person operation. Our page-16 profile of the company, “Innovation In Automation,” explains why ethanol plant DCS upgrades are sometimes necessary, and how they get done. It’s highly specialized work that requires tremendous proficiency and teamwork, which Trident prioritizes through internal employee training and mentoring that we can all learn from.

Next, on page 24, we turn from process automation to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that give ethanol producers fully integrated general ledger software coupled with commodity management tools. “Taking Producers Beyond,” tells the backstory on a Christianson PLLP spin-off, Beyond, which offers two primary ERP products to ethanol plants. The systems help ethanol producers run their businesses more efficiently by making everyday interactions more intuitive, more accurate and better documented—from grain buying, invoicing and inventory to load scheduling, shipment tracking and supply chain management. The story reminds us that being in total control of an ethanol plant is about more than process automation. The business must also run with precision.

Next, in “Within Grasp: Getting Year-Round E15 Done,” we turn to what is perhaps the industry’s top market priority. In this story, we present background, context and industry reaction to the U.S. EPA’s late-February ruling on the summertime use of E15—a long-overdue regulatory response to the joint petition of eight Midwest states to opt out of the federal government’s Reid vapor pressure rules that prohibit E15 in much of the country between June 1 and September 15. In its decision, the EPA gave Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin a green light to allow E15 sales during the summer—but not until 2025. Ethanol producers and corn growers are frustrated by the agency’s rationale for the delayed start, but most are moving on, refocusing their efforts on a national, permanent, year-round fix. While that’s worked out, an emergency summertime E15 waiver will once again be needed. At press time, the Biden Administration had not yet granted one but was expected to.

Finally, we offer a brief story about diaphragm filter presses on page 38. We are not advocating for the replacement of centrifuge decanters in ethanol production—the centrifugal process is the trusted norm in the U.S.—but we sometimes like to present readers with novel and alternative process methods. So, check out “A Proposal To Press,” and decide for yourself whether the idea has merit.


View from the Hill

Dead Wrong About E85

Upon learning that a newspaper in New York had inadvertently published his obituary in 1897, Mark Twain—who was still very much alive and in good health—famously said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

The same could be said today for E85 flex fuel. While some critics wrote off E85 years ago as a “dead fuel,” in reality, the blend is alive and kicking. In fact, E85 has never been more popular with drivers of flex fuel vehicles (FFVs).

The California Air Resources Board recently reported that a record 118.5 million gallons of E85 were sold in the state in 2023, a 14% increase over 2022 and nearly double the volume of 2021. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Revenue released data in March showing record E85 sales in the North Star State as well, with volumes up 8% over 2022 levels and 38% higher than 2021. And while reliable nationwide data on E85 sales volumes are not available, data from the Energy Information Administration indicates roughly 750 million gallons of ethanol were consumed in blends other than E10 last year; most of that volume was likely E85.

So, what is driving the rebirth of E85 flex fuel? The fuel’s resurgence is likely resulting from two compelling consumer benefits: lower carbon emissions and lower prices.

Flex fuels offer substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. E85 made from today’s typical corn ethanol cuts lifecycle GHG emissions by 35-40% compared to gasoline. And E85 made from the lowest-carbon ethanol available today can offer reductions of 70% or more, meaning FFVs can provide carbon performance similar to a battery electric vehicle, or better. In the long run, FFVs and E85 offer the only viable pathway for ethanol to realize its potential as a net-zero carbon emissions fuel.

E85 also beats gasoline significantly in cost. Recent analysis by the RFA shows that the average retail price of E85 in California in 2023 was $3.17 per gallon, compared to an average price of $5.01 per gallon for E10 gasoline. That’s an average discount of $1.84 per gallon, a 37% cost advantage! Nationwide, E85 was priced about 21% lower than E10 on average, offering significant savings to American families.

But affordability is about more than just the cost of the fuel; it’s also about the cost of the vehicle. Today, more than 21 million FFVs are on American roadways, and consumers don’t pay any more for an FFV than they do for a corresponding gasoline-only model. Compare that to the typical $10,000-$12,000 upcharge that exists today for a battery electric vehicle.

What about new FFVs? While roughly one in 12 vehicles on the road today is an FFV, it is true that automakers have dramatically reduced production of new FFVs in recent years. Far from being “dead,” however, FFVs appear to be making a comeback. After offering no new FFV models to consumers in model year 2024, General Motors is bringing four new FFV models to dealerships across the country in model year 2025.

All of these developments add up to an exciting new opportunity for E85—a fuel that was once “left for dead” by some is now more alive than ever before.

Geoff Cooper President and CEO Renewable Fuels Association

U.S. Grains Council Supports Biofuel-Based Decarbonization Initiatives Worldwide

As part of its efforts to promote decarbonization, the U.S. Grains Council is increasing its focus on market opportunities outside the transportation sector. This includes household cooking alternatives that use clean-burning ethanol as opposed to polluting fuels like coal or wood.

One of the advantages of alcohol-burning cookstoves is that since ethanol provides a higher heat flow with no smoke, cooking and hot water production can take place faster and with no pollution.

Firewood, charcoal and kerosene are still the dominant cooking fuels in several regions where the Council operates, particularly in the southern hemisphere. Burning polluting fuels has serious impacts on human health, the environment, gender and social roles, household economics and more. By taking advantage of this growing trend toward cleaner fuels in households, the demand for ethanol as a primary cooking fuel is projected to increase drastically over the next 10 years.

Affordability and availability enabled by sufficient domestic production and supply chain development, increased trade opportunities and greater awareness of the health and environmental benefits of ethanol, will drive this demand. Multiple United Nations’ COP27 and COP28 announcements recognized the need for clean cooking alternatives, and the Council is at the forefront of this movement to continue elevating and advocating for ethanol as a solution. The Council’s enhancement of partnerships with organizations focused on expanding clean cooking, including Pivot Clean Energy, BioFuture Campaign, the International Energy Agency and others, will bring more depth and resources to the effort. One recent success involving the Council’s efforts in clean cooking took place in February when it convened high-level U.S. and Mozambican government officials, industry professionals and other stakeholders to discuss the benefits and challenges of using ethanol to meet the country’s clean energy goals in both cooking and transportation. During the event, the Council, Pivot Clean Energy and the Mozambique Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, signed a memorandum of understanding in the presence of U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small and U.S. Ambassador Peter H. Vrooman. It establishes a cooperative partnership to exchange technical expertise and best practices related to the biofuels industry and clean energy policy development in the region.

Elsewhere, India is continuing to explore ways to mitigate its air pollution, and clean-burning cookstoves continue to be an option considered by the government and its state-owned companies. The government is engaging in a pilot project providing 500 cookstoves to Indian families. By participating in this initiative, the Council can support the government’s efforts and capitalize on trade opportunities to support the fledgling industry. Because India has the largest population in the world, the implications of developing this new market are considerable.

Soon, the Council will conduct feasibility analyses in southern hemisphere countries that include feedstock overviews, fuel specifications, equipment pilots, policy and standards support, infrastructure development, product sourcing, community education and more all critical to the effective implementation of ethanol as a renewable, modern, clean cooking option for households around the world.

Global Scene


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Summit adds 8 Valero ethanol plants to planned CCS pipeline

Summit Carbon Solutions has announced that Valero, the world’s secondlargest corn ethanol producer, will tie in eight of its biorefineries to Summit’s proposed CO2 pipeline, the largest planned carbon capture and storage project in the world.

The participating Valero plants are located in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota. The eight facilities, which produce a combined 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol per year, will capture 3.1 million metric tons of CO2 annually.

“By integrating Valero’s facilities into this project, we will make major strides in providing more than a billion gallons of low-carbon fuels to a marketplace hungry for the product,” said Bruce Rastetter, founder and executive chairman of Summit Agricultural Group.

With the inclusion of Valero, Summit’s project now extends to 57 ethanol production facilities across the Upper Midwest, from which it will capture and sequester over 16 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

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New Energy Blue forms subsidiary to make biobased ethylene for Dow plastics, SAF

New Energy Blue, a developer of low-carbon biofuels and biochemicals made from crop residues, has formed a new subsidiary that will source and produce biobased ethylene for Dow’s lowcarbon plastics. The company also plans to expand its operations in Port Lavaca, Texas, to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

New Energy Chemicals will manufacture products that are raw material sourced and 100% made in the U.S. “New Energy Chemicals opens multiple pathways to our exponential growth in biobased fuels and

chemicals,” says Albury Fleitas, president of New Energy Blue. “We’re particularly excited about our new end-to-end alternative to Brazilian ethanol for making SAF, which will begin in the American Midwest by refining agricultural waste.”

The company’s planned facility, the New Energy Freedom biomass refinery in Mason City, Iowa, will convert local corn stalks into 16 to 20 million gallons per year of highly-decarbonized (HD) cellulosic ethanol and 120,000 tons per year of clean, HD lignin.

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Alto partners with Vault on CCS in Pekin

Alto Ingredients Inc., a producer of renewable fuel and essential ingredients— and the largest producer of specialty alcohols in the U.S.—has entered into an exclusive, nonbinding letter of intent to develop a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project with Vault 44.01 at Alto’s Pekin, Illinois, biorefining complex.

Alto will install equipment to capture carbon dioxide generated from ethanol production at the campus, and Vault will transport and permanently store the C02 deep underground in a secure geologic reservoir located in close proximity to the

Southwest Airlines launches SAF-focused subsidiary, invests in LanzaJet

Southwest Airlines Co. has launched Southwest Airlines Renewable Ventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary dedicated to creating more opportunities for Southwest to obtain scalable, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The carrier also announced a $30 million investment, as part of the SARV portfolio, in LanzaJet Inc., which has patented ethanol-to-SAF technology and operates the world’s first ethanol-to-SAF commercial facility.

“Our launch of SARV and our investment in LanzaJet demonstrate that we are not sitting on the sidelines. Rather, we’re in

plant. The CCS project is intended to substantially reduce CO2 emissions from the ethanol production process and provide direct value to the surrounding communities. Both Alto and Vault continue to engage with local stakeholders, landowners and communities about the project.

The Pekin campus produces approximately 250 million gallons of specialty alcohols and renewable fuel per year; it also generates over 600,000 metric tons of CO2 as a byproduct of the corn fermentation process.

the game by taking proactive, disciplined steps toward securing affordable SAF for Southwest, as we continue to march toward our goal of net zero by 2050,” said Bob Jordan, president and CEO of Southwest Airlines. “We look forward to working with companies and organizations developing important technology, like LanzaJet, which could help us meet our SAF goals.”

Southwest has committed to replacing 10% of its total jet fuel consumption with SAF by 2030.

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“There is no shortcut to experience,” says Trident Automation CEO Yogesh Maheshwari. In a job where the need to adapt and problem solve is a constant reality, Trident Automation’s engineers have built up experience to handle the complex challenges of installing and maintaining ethanol plant distributed control systems (DCS) over the past 22 years. Trident was founded in the early 2000s to facilitate the needs of the burgeoning—and increasingly automated—ethanol industry, installing DCS in plants alongside the well-known designers and builders of today’s ethanol biorefineries—ICM, Fagen and others. The three original owners of Trident implemented automation in ethanol plants across the Midwest, from Wisconsin to Nebraska. Today, the company has grown from three employees to 45 and continues to innovate, finding new ways to help ethanol producers leverage plant data and solve problems.

The Brain of the Plant

The DCS is the brain of an ethanol plant, controlling every aspect of operations, from instrumentation to valves. Trident has more than 20 engineers on staff that handle DCS installations and maintenance. The four primary DCS manufacturers are Siemens, Rockwell, Foxboro and Emerson. Trident has active partnership agreements with Rockwell and Siemens and also does maintenance for plants that have Emerson and Foxboro platforms.

“We have 100-plus active ethanol customers that we work with quite a bit, both remotely and on site,” Maheshwari says, explaining that biorefineries need frequent DCS support, which Trident typically handles remotely by logging into a client’s system. The work ranges from simple changes—additions, deletions and the like—to 40-hour, large-scale projects.

Matt Dutka is the plant manager of Golden Grain Energy, one of the ethanol producers that Trident services. He describes what automation contributes to plant operations and the value that advanced DCS

technology has brought to ethanol production. Automating a majority of the production process allows one highly skilled person to run most of the plant rather than relying on several operators with varying levels of experience. “If you’re that skilled person, I can let you operate a larger piece of the plant, knowing, as the plant manager, that I’ve got the right person running the facility,” Dutka says. “Now, if I don’t have that technology,

and all of a sudden [one operator] can’t control as big a piece of the pie, I’m going to [need] more people and [won’t] necessarily ... have all the personnel with the same skill set.”

A few years ago, Golden Grain Energy’s DCS platform was phased out by Siemens, meaning that, without a change, the plant would have risked operating on a system that was no longer fully supported. Plant manage-

WIRED FOR SUCCESS: Trident Automation’s engineers are experienced in software support and installations of new DCS systems, both of which are time-sensitive tasks. With extensive upfront planning and preparation, Trident can replace an ethanol plant DCS in as little as five days.


Trident Automation leverages its industry experience and innovation to help ethanol producers maintain and install distributed control systems.

ment decided to upgrade to a Siemens PCS 7 platform, opting for a multi-year incorporation of the system. “Trident did all that work,” Dutka says. “We elected to piecemeal [the system’s] three major components, and we did one per year because it was less invasive for us to do it that way, and it spread out our costs.”

Sticking with the same DCS vendor also helped reduce the expense of the up-

grade, Dutka explains. Because Golden Grain stayed with a Siemens platform, the plant didn’t need to replace integrated system components. “We were happy with what we had,” he says. “It just came to [the point where], ‘Hey, you’ve got to upgrade it.’” The upgrade has made the system more operator friendly, faster at pulling data and easier to troubleshoot.

Ultimately, DCS platforms are a vital

part of any ethanol plant’s infrastructure, but the degree of automation a producer uses varies depending on the facility. Jeff Meneau, a controls engineer with Trident, says some plants still rely partially on manual control while others prefer very high-level automation, including every aspect of fermentation. “Obviously, it’s an investment to automate, but the good thing about automating repetitive tasks and [functions is that


things are] done the same way every time, and it’s very consistent,” he says. “Especially when, in fermentation, ... you’re trying to get your chemicals and your antibiotics and [the whole process carried out precisely].”

DCS Installation

Trident’s engineers are experienced in software support and installations of new DCS systems, both of which are time-sensitive tasks. “Downtime is associated with replacing a DCS, and anytime a plant is down, you’re up against time to bring it back up,” Maheshwari says. “And this is a pretty large endeavor where you go in and rewire the entire plant in a matter of five to six days, so there’s a lot of planning that goes into it; and we have done DCS replacements— from [system shutdown to back] up and running—within about five days.”

Meneau describes the process Trident uses to install a new DCS at an ethanol plant. The process begins with an initial trip to the plant, in which Trident engineers assess the state of the existing system and map out where certain elements of the process are located. With that onsite knowledge, the engineers design a plan for executing the new system before writing the code, which is mostly a rewrite, Meneau explains. Trident

uses “base blocks” to code for motors and other necessary plant functions. All of the auto-logic and interlocks—equipment safety shutoffs—are rewritten because newer control systems have more tools to do the same tasks.

“We take pride in trying to figure out what the code was doing by working with the customer. And because we may have a better solution and a bigger toolbox with a new DCS, we can make a better product in the end. That does take a little more time and money,” Meneau says. “But we all feel that it’s better in the long run than just copying what was there before.”

Prior to Trident’s on-site arrival to start an installation, the company uses simulation software to check safety features and make sure the software is working correctly. The engineers will also visit the plant to label wires and terminations in preparation for a migration. Once that’s complete, they return to the plant to begin carrying out the DCS replacement; they shut down the system and remove the existing hardware before commencing with the install, Meneau says. After the new system is in place, Trident’s team does a site acceptance check to verify that everything is complete and operating as designed.

MAKING CONNECTIONS: The DCS is the brain of an ethanol plant, controlling every aspect of operations, from instrumentation to valves. Trident has more than 20 engineers on staff that handle DCS installations and maintenance. The company primarily uses Rockwell and Siemens platforms. PHOTO: TRIDENT

Developing Experience

The training process to become a team member with Trident takes roughly 12 to 18 months, or the requisite amount of time to equip new recruits with the tools and experience needed to assist producers 24/7. “It’s a very long life cycle, but you have to invest the time,” Maheshwari says. One strategy

Trident uses to make the team more effective is standardizing code amongst its software engineers to make it easier for staff to support plants that are having issues with their systems. “We work with more than a hundred plants,” he says, explaining that DCS code writing styles vary from company to company and person to person. “But in

the middle of the night, if I’m troubleshooting your code, that is not good. Or if you’re troubleshooting my code, that’s not good either.” The code will not be identical, but Trident has its engineers standardize their practices to the point that their work is 80% to 90% similar, no matter which engineer creates it.

Depending on the experience level of a new engineer, they will spend a month or two familiarizing themselves with Trident’s coding style. They will then spend time shadowing a more experienced engineer, part of the training triage team, while responding to support requests throughout the day. “As these day-to-day small requests come in, a new person will rely on key senior engineers for mentoring; they’ll shadow them to gain exposure to the trade and learn how to approach various situations,” Maheshwari explains. Trident uses a “mentoring room” with two 75-inch screens that allow the senior engineer and new engineer to see what the other is doing, trading control back and forth.

Growing into the role, a new team member will join a project group, working their way up from small projects to large ones, eventually becoming a support engineer. In time, they may even mentor incom-

SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS: To better serve its customers, Trident built Workbench, a tool that allows ethanol producers to easily view and interpret data from various production modules. The company also offers a tool called Sieve Pack, which gives producers enhanced operational control of dehydration.

ing employees. Working out a process to train new engineers has been a challenge, but Maheshwari says the process has improved, and new engineers are able to become productive more quickly under the current training system.

Elements of Innovation

Over the years, Trident has coupled its experience with innovations in DCS technology to meet the needs of its clients. One challenge the company has helped its customers address more efficiently is data management. A typical ethanol plant has 1,500 to 3,000 input and output (IO) data points, and the DCS records data from each one every few seconds, explains Maheshwari. These IO points need to be tracked and logged in the system’s historian for regulatory compliance. However, in order for ethanol producers to utilize the data, the information needs to be condensed and conceptualized into a readable format.

To do this, Trident created Workbench, a solution for ethanol producers to easily

view and interpret their data. Maheshwari explains that Workbench helps producers aggregate, conceptualize and visualize process data to assist them in decision making. Producers give Trident guidance on which key performance indices they need brought into focus from the vast amount of data the system processes. “Everybody has different ways of looking at the same data, so we work with them; they are the subject matter experts at their plant,” Maheshwari says. “They tell us what data they want to see, and in what format.”

Through Workbench, producers can track data points on things such as corn use, natural gas consumption and the volume of ethanol being produced. “Sometimes a little variation in their overhead of, say, natural gas usage, [can be better controlled]. If they can optimize or reduce the consumption of natural gas just slightly—even a small percentage—and derive some efficiencies, then it goes to their bottom line,” Maheshwari says.

Trident has also developed an algorithm called Sieve Pack that helps producers more

efficiently operate their molecular sieves. “The operation of the sieves, or dehydration units, is simple, but every plant does it differently based on their process piping and [design],” says Maheshwari. The algorithm is layered “on top of the DCS” and gives plant operators flexibility to change parameters within the sieve, allowing them to run it more efficiently and manipulate its operation. “That was also developed based on producer needs. They were struggling. As we were bringing these plants up, they were having a hard time consistently running [their molecular sieves],” he says. “So we jumped in and said, ‘How can we help?’ We devised it, and over the course of the last 15 to 20 years, we have [improved] it over and over again. We have also created newer add-ons to it ... based on the needs of different customers.

Ultimately, helping producers optimize operations and solve problems is a rewarding job, agree Maheshwari and Meneau. The fulfilling part of automation engineering for Meneau is the satisfaction of completing a job. “We get to do drawings and panel design

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[tied to] the code work, and we even assist the electricians in wiring on the installs, so you actually get to see the whole thing from start to finish on installation,” Meneau says. “It’s kind of cool, and a pretty good feeling when it’s all said and done.”

For Maheshwari, it comes down to loving the job. “We really enjoy what we do,” he says. “At the end of the day, it gives you a sense of satisfaction, you know, like I’m driving down the freeway and I see an ethanol plant with my family, and I’m like, ‘You know, I’ve been to that one. The brain [of

that plant] was programmed by us.’ It’s a good moment. You feel accomplished; you feel good about yourself because you know you’ve made a difference.”

AT THE HELM: Today's ethanol plant DCS systems allow much of the production process to be run and monitored by one highly skilled operator at a time. PHOTO: TRIDENT


As its name evokes, Beyond was created to enable grain processing and biofuels companies to go further, achieve more and advance past previous milestones. Starting as a software division of Christianson PLLP, the company split off to become a separate entity in 2020, continuing to offer grain processing and commodity industries enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to streamline their data collection. “Beyond has two products that are used in the ethanol industry, Intellego

and Levridge, both of which integrate commodity and financial software,” explains Fred Gould, director of business development at the Minnesota-based company. With 22 years of experience, Gould has been with Beyond since its inception and, before that, with Christianson for almost two decades. Over the years, the company’s services and business model have remained consistent.

“We’re a software implementer and reseller of commodity and ERP software, so we were one of the first in the ethanol industry to have a fully integrated prod-

uct,” says Gould. The software differs from other commodity and financial ERP packages in its ability to manage the purchasing, process manufacturing and sales for both the ethanol and grain products; it can also exchange information electronically with marketers along with provisional invoicing.

When Beyond was a division of Christianson, the company became a reseller of Microsoft Dynamics GP software. The GP stood for Great Plains Software, the original developer. Based in Fargo, North Dakota, Great Plains was acquired by Microsoft in 2001. Seeking to improve the integration of

Data collection, storage and reporting are vital to ethanol plant operations. A Minnesota-based software integrator is automating those functions to help producers optimize business processes and drive financial success.

the commodity and general ledger software, the Christianson division worked with a developer to create the Intellego commodity application. Bringing that application to market is what launched the division into a “higher growth pattern,” explains Gould. Intellego is a fully integrated application since it is built inside of Dynamics GP. “We kind of grew up with the ethanol industry,” Gould adds, explaining that Christianson has been working with producers since the industry’s early years.

Today, the staff at Beyond helps the ethanol industry function each day by supplying reliable software to accomplish tasks such as supplier contracts, grain tickets and settlement, all while keeping track of vital data. “Intellego and Levridge make the grain buying process easier for plants.

From writing purchase contracts through settlements with the suppliers, all the information is collected in one system,” Gould says. “Plants can also market their own distillers and ethanol. Intellego and Levridge can manage everything from sales contracting to load scheduling to tracking the shipments and invoicing.”

The systems are also able to exchange shipping information with marketing companies that sell and market ethanol, DDGS or other coproducts. Gould explains that layered underneath these commodity market capabilities is the accounting and financial reporting software. “The unique part of what we [deliver is] a fully integrated product,” he says. “For example, on the inbound side, once the ticket is posted, it hits inventory [while also] accruing the liability. Once

settled, the software handles accounts payable transactions to the supplier, and [every detailed aspect of the product purchase is handled]. We’re the ERP system that has this unique grain commodities piece that we’ve helped develop on top of [the accounting software].”

Going back to the early 2000s, the company’s ERP product offerings have continually evolved to improve and meet customer needs. Levridge, which is one of Beyond’s newest product offerings, is an example of how the company is continually innovating to keep pace with advancements in the software industry. “Beyond has been helping to develop the application for over three years,” Gould explains. “It allows ethanol producers to store their data in the cloud rather than on site. Contrary to

RUNNING STRONG: The team at Beyond has a combined 100 years of experience helping ethanol producers integrate solutions, solve problems and utilize data. PHOTO: STOCK

outdated thinking, storing data in the cloud is more secure and cost effective.” As of early 2024, Beyond has helped three companies implement Levridge.

Gould explains that Beyond’s sophisticated ERP system has evolved in step with changes and advancements in biorefining. “Ethanol processing has evolved quite a bit now; we have industrial alcohols, we have corn oil, and we have other [products],” he says. “The manufacturing process has gotten more sophisticated.”

Client Relationships

Ultimately, Beyond is focused on continuous service and support for its customers after they purchase the software. “Yeah, we sold them software, but that’s a small piece of the puzzle,” says Steve Squibb, operations team lead with Beyond. “We’re selling our expertise. We know how to set things up; we know how things are supposed to run; we know how a well-oiled, well-run company should be implemented to control costs and [meet] product quality expectations.”

For ethanol plants implementing a large project or going through a management transition, Beyond can provide controller or CFO services, applying both its systems and accounting knowledge. The relationships between Beyond and its clients are friendly and intentional. “Lots of places will just charge you for every little question, but we don’t do that. We tend to look at our customers as family,” Squibb says. “We have a very strong base and customer attachment.”

Staying connected with the ethanol industry’s needs through continuous learning and listening is vital to Beyond’s approach to customer relations. “We have an annual user conference, and we take a lot of pride in what [it achieves each year],” Gould says. “And we continuously take feedback from our customers, which drives us to continue to innovate. That’s just the name of the game.”

Software Integration

Implementing a new ERP system is challenging and time consuming, so Gould does not recommend that ethanol producers change their system before it’s necessary. “We’ve done it in as fast as a month—don’t advise that—but it typically takes three to four months for the Intellego product; implementing Leverage takes a little bit longer, depending on what you’re doing,” he says. The installation time difference between the two platforms is due to Leverage’s status as a newer product. Intellego, on the other hand, has been implemented dozens of times over the course of two decades. Beyond brings to bear its team’s combined 100 years of experience to help producers integrate solutions, solve problems and utilize data. “We just have a really [seasoned] product implementation team,” Gould says. “That is very important in terms of consistency, understanding and engagement That’s where our expertise is—understanding the integration points, the flow of data, and continuing to evolve with the client.”

Information Automation

Beyond’s systems collect information from a variety of sources throughout the plant, which eliminates the need for a clerk to log hours recording data. Instead, that position is replaced with an analyst that

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verifies the collected data and creates invoices. This change is a “value add,” Squibb says, explaining that it allows producers to tighten up operations.

Beyond partners with the manufacturers of flow meters, load-out systems, scales and other equipment to gather data on various inputs to create standardized item information. Data comes from a wide range of sources, Squibb explains. For example, some ethanol producers use a system that can read a tank car’s RFID chip and record

POURING DATA: Today's ethanol producers want to know everything they can about their regional supply chain: how much corn they are getting from various suppliers, how efficiently in-bound grain is being delivered to the facility, and more.

where a car is going and what it is carrying.

Gathering information at the source and putting it all in the same place is a helpful step for any ethanol producer, according to Gould. “We like to get everything in one database, in one place, but that’s not always possible,” he says. “Some of the more modern reporting systems allow you to pull data from different places and have one place to view and report information.” Not only does Beyond pull info from the plant’s operations data sources directly into its system, but the software also interfaces with bid/offer systems to get purchase contracts to give plant management the full risk picture daily.

“Traditional accounting has been reporting stuff after the fact,” Gould says. “Reporting in financial statements is sort of a lag indicator—‘This is what we did last month.’ More advanced reporting [asks], ‘How do I influence that outcome?’ Plants

INBOUND INFO: Beyond has partnered with the manufacturers of flow meters, load-out systems, scales and other equipment to gather data on various inputs for its clients. PHOTO: COMPUWEIGH

need information faster and in a more dynamic format. [A more advanced system] allows them to react quicker.”

Automation makes it easy for ethanol plant personnel to do things in the right sequence, Gould explains. For example, streamlining the purchase order approval process and making it easier to approve in the right order—not after the purchase has

already occurred. “If it’s done in the system, it goes through the process in the right sequence,” he says. “A mobile app can even allow users to see transactions that need approval—[notifying others that] ‘Hey, I need to approve this.’ Users can also review attached documents. The approver can hit approve or reject, and it’s on to the next thing.”

In addition to its
platforms can exchange shipping information with ethanol and coproduct marketing companies. PHOTOS: STOCK
core accounting and financial reporting
Beyond's software
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Adapting to Change

Having data at their fingertips, producers seek ways to better understand their supply chain, including how much corn they are getting from various suppliers, and how efficiently inbound grain is being delivered. Squibb discusses an example of

utilizing this data to help a plant become a better destination for farmers by monitoring and posting their wait times. This is just one of the ways producers can leverage their data to understand their access to local farmers and get a full picture of their supply chain. Producers want to go beyond the required core reporting data

and examine contract positions, know which suppliers are delivering, and what percentage of a farmer’s grain the plant is receiving.

“We’re collaborating with a customer right now to build some custom reporting around the analysis of deliveries, when they’re delivering as compared to when their contract said they should be delivering and those types of things,” says Squibb.

Ethanol production is not slowing down, and as producers diversify their product streams and production becomes increasingly complex, software is needed to track and store producer data. Gould and Squibb say the team at Beyond looks forward to evolving with the industry as producers continue to grow and innovate.

INPUT INGENUITY: Through Intellego and Levridge, Beyond strives to make the grain buying process easier for ethanol plants, from purchase contracts and load scheduling to tracking and invoicing.
CONTINUOUS ACCESS: Lawmakers, corn growers, ethanol producers and fuel retailers are pushing the federal government for a permanent, year-round E15 solution. PHOTO: IOWA CORN

Within Grasp: Getting Year-Round E15 Done

Eight Midwest states now have federal approval to allow E15 sales year-round—but not until 2025. For proponents of the stepped-up blend, the regulatory victory is bittersweet, and their sights are set on a larger goal.

Dan Keitzer is an Iowa corn farmer who is happy, yet frustrated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s late-February announcement allowing yearround E15 sales in South Dakota and seven other Midwest states. He and other corn growers—along with ethanol producers, ag-state governors and dozens of fuel retailers behind the push for yearround E15—are pleased with the EPA’s decision, which will help sustain demand for cornbased ethanol. On the other hand, they’re also frustrated that the approval won’t take effect until next year, which means yet another “summer waiver” must be provided by the Biden Administration to allow E15 blends to be sold between June 1 and September 15.

“The long-term significance is good,” says Keitzer, the committee chair for usage and production for the Iowa Corn Growers Association, “but this is frustrating.”

The Mood On Year-Round E15

POET, the world’s largest ethanol producer, quickly released a statement on the EPA’s February 22 ruling—a long-overdue

regulatory response to the joint petition of eight Midwest states to opt out of the federal government’s Reid vapor pressure (RVP) rules that dictate the use of E10 and nonsensically prohibit E15 in the summer. The states include Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. North Dakota was originally part of the group but dropped out to pursue a more blanketing federal solution to year-round E15, which is the ethanol industry’s ultimate objective.

Joshua Shields, senior vice president of corporate affairs for POET, said the company was grateful to the Midwest governors that pushed for the approval. Shields also highlighted the shortcomings of the federal decision. He said a waiver for E15 this summer—along with next year’s green light for year-round E15 in eight states—is an important step, “but Americans ultimately deserve a permanent nationwide fix.”

POET’s campaign for a clear regulatory or legislative path for year-round E15 parallels that of a group of Midwest governors that initiated the push in early 2022. Led by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, the gubernatorial alliance filed a petition with the EPA asking for the removal of the federal government’s 1-psi RVP waiver. Doing so would—and now


will—allow for the summertime sale of E15 in those states.

“Nearly two years ago,” said Reynolds, “I organized a bipartisan coalition of eight Midwest governors to join me in challenging the EPA’s refusal to allow E15 sales during summer months.

“Finally, our request is approved,” she added. “However, the EPA’s unjustified delays come at a cost for drivers and the environment.”

Reynolds and other stakeholders are already pursuing a federal summer waiver.

Jolene Reissen, another Iowa farmer, is one of many stakeholders working to get a federal summer waiver through, which at press time had not yet happened. Reissen, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, points out that E15 is a more affordable fuel than E10 by roughly 15 to 16 cents.

In addition to the work of several governors, the EPA’s February announcement called attention to multiple attorneys general. Last August, Iowa Attorney General Brenna

Bird, along with Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers, filed a lawsuit against the EPA that challenged the agency’s inaction on the E15 decision. The lawsuit—which was dropped in March—highlighted that the initial request by the governors had been made in April 2022 and that the EPA was supposed to announce a decision within 90 days of the request. Rather, it took almost 10 months.

Bird says she and others did not stand by idly waiting while the EPA delayed its decision. “We fought back,” she said.

Ultimately, E15 proponents are fighting for the ability to blend and offer E15 at the pump nationwide. There are, however, lingering questions about the necessary infrastructure to accomplish such a feat. Every state in the waiver zone generally uses gasoline from the PADD 2 Midwest district. In the petition-

GROWING THE MARKET: According to the Renewable Fuels Association, a typical dry mill ethanol plant adds approximately $2.71 of additional value to every bushel of corn processed. That's why American corn growers have joined the push for a nationwide, year-round E15 solution.

ing states, there are 11 refineries. In adjacent non-petitioning states, there are roughly 22 refineries. Within the petitioning states, the EPA estimates there are nearly 250 large gasoline and refined product terminals, each with a capacity of at least 50,000 barrels per day, along with another 100 smaller storage or transfer facilities.

According to the EPA, roughly 150 million gallons of E15 were sold in Iowa in 2023.

By 2027, that number could reach 240 million gallons. Likewise, Minnesota sold 130 million gallons of E15 in 2023; that number could grow to 180 million gallons by 2027, the EPA says.

Why the Delay Until 2025?

To explain its rationale for delaying the start of year-round E15 until 2025, the EPA provided a 60-plus page document titled, “Re-

quest from States for Removal of Gasoline Volatility Waiver: Technical Support Document and Cost Analysis.” The document outlines several factors that gave the EPA pause in implementing the start date any sooner than 2025. The EPA examined where the gasoline used in the E15 mix would be produced, how much was needed, how E15 would impact adjacent states, and what changes would be required of the likely refiners, shippers and re-

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tailers. Beyond that, the agency also moved past data analysis and got into the speculation of gas volume demands and the possible price of fuel in the coming years.

Additional justification for the delay is related to the 1-psi RVP volatility waiver. According to the EPA, blending ethanol into gasoline increases the volatility of the resulting fuel. The waiver allows blends of gasoline and 10% ethanol to have a higher-than-allowed RVP. The waiver’s removal allows for the production of E15 year-round, but it also creates other issues, mainly for refineries, the EPA says.

Of the 61 pages in the EPA’s explanatory document on the yearround E15 decision, 13 of those pages were dedicated to addressing the 1-psi waiver, including the cost of its removal, insight on distribution costs, the potential price impacts of implementing a removal, and finally—on the last of the 13 pages—the benefits of removing the 1-psi waiver.

According to the EPA, typical refineries would need to remove more butane from their fuel mix to produce a low-RVP conventional blendstock for oxygenate blending (CBOB) fuel. In its supporting document, the EPA detailed the issues refineries have in removing butane. For instance, the EPA said, many refineries sometimes have capacity issues with their specialized equipment used to remove butane. Adding extra capacity would require upgrades to the refinery like boilers, pumps and piping, the EPA believes. Such upgrades could take up to two years, the agency stated.

In 2021, the Renewable Fuels Association estimated the cost of removing the 1-psi waiver in PADD 2. For the refining cost, removing the 1-psi would total 2.2 to 2.6 cents per gallon.

Another issue with the removal of butane for refiners is what they can do with the product. While some refineries have infrastructure to treat or move the product, others don’t.

Changing the current blend of hydrocarbons around to accommodate the addition of more ethanol, the EPA believes, could also alter the total amount of fuel supply available. In fact, the EPA said, there could be a reduced gasoline supply. However, the EPA also outlined multiple ways the issue could be overcome.

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THE ROAD AHEAD: According to the EPA, roughly 150 million gallons of E15 were sold in Iowa in 2023. By 2027, that number could reach 240 million gallons. Likewise, Minnesota sold 130 million gallons of E15 in 2023; that number could grow to 180 million gallons by 2027 with summer access in place. PHOTO: IOWA CORN


And then there is the question about small refiners and how changing their fuel mix might impact their operations and profitability. The EPA specifically addressed that in its decision-making explanation.

“Even if refiners are not able to recover the cost associated with the removal of the 1-psi waiver through higher gasoline prices, based on our cost-to-sales analysis, the refiners would be affected at less than 1 percent of their sales as a result of this action,” the EPA said. “Therefore, based on our outreach, fact-finding, and analysis of the potential impacts of this rule on small businesses (refiners), the EPA finds that the removal of the 1-psi waiver in the petitioning states will


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DUBIOUS DELAY: The EPA believes fuel distributors will need roughly two years to finance, design, permit and construct additional tankage to efficiently distribute low-RVP gasoline to petitioning states. Ethanol and corn groups disagree. PHOTO: IOWA
10 /2 2 02 25 4

not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.”

The perceived impact to the refinery sector is not the only reason for the summer E15 delay. The agency also believes fuel distributors will need roughly two years to finance, design, permit and construct additional tankage to efficiently distribute low-RVP gasoline to petitioning states.

“Neither the implementation schedule requested by the petitioning states (summer of 2023) nor the summer of 2024 provide that amount of lead time,” according to the EPA.

Keitzer disagrees. When asked about the infrastructure issue, his reply was quick and simple.

“We’ve looked at the fuel retailers. They have enough tanks,” he said.

The U.S. ethanol industry is largely critical of the EPA’s rationale, numbers and hypothetical scenarios that help the agency justify the delay of year-round E15, but most are shifting their focus to the next battle. There is clear determination by many in the industry to keep their foot on the year-round gas pedal.

Permanent, Nationwide E15 Solution Lingers

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says the federal government’s consternation over year-round E15, like the waiver waiting game that states like his had to play for two-plus years, doesn’t make much sense.

“This is a good-news, bad-news situation,” he says of the Feb. 22 EPA announcement in favor of year-round E15 with a delayed start.

“We continue to have this uncertainty. And, when I talk with our industry here that is impacted by this decision, they want certainty,” he says.

When asked about the lengthy rationale the EPA offered for the delay until 2025, Naig recounted a commonsense question an Iowa resident asked him: “If it’s good enough for 2025, why is it not good enough for 2024?”

Shortly after the EPA’s E15 announcement was made, including the part about the

delay of implementation until 2025, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appeared at the 2024 Commodity Classic with EPA Administrator Michael Regan on March 1. A few weeks earlier, Vilsack also spoke at the National Ethanol Conference. At both events, he expressed confidence that a nationwide E15 solution was possible by 2025.

Keitzer and his team in Iowa are looking forward to true E15 sales year-round in their state.

“Sixty percent of our corn goes to ethanol,” he says. “We certainly want market demand for that.”

His team also supports sustainable aviation fuel development. While they were in Houston for the Commodity Classic, they had conversations with SAF developers. The group is also in support of dealing with CO2, by pipeline or other means. As for eRINs being accepted into RFS2, they aren’t for it and will work to make sure electric cars do not qualify to participate. With each area of focus—from year-round E15 to SAF to carbon reduction—Keitzer and other corn growers offer a simple message: ethanol can play a big part.

For Naig and the rest of the Iowa stakeholders pushing for year-round E15, the mission hasn’t changed.

“We will stay at this,” he says. “We have a unified congressional delegation, and we think it is so important to have alignment.”

Naig gives credit to both Attorney General Bird and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for their roles in leading the effort for year-round E15, starting with Reynolds in 2022 and continuing on with a legal push by Bird in 2023.

Moving forward, Naig’s message is this: “We will continue to push on every front.”

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Is the diaphragm filter press a viable alternative to the centrifuge decanters used in dry mill DDGS production? A pair of engineers from the U.S. and China think so.

In the U.S. ethanol industry, the process of dewatering either whole or thin stillage for the production of distillers grains typically happens via centrifugation. In its most up-todate DDGS Handbook published in 2020, the U.S. Grains Council says the whole or thin stillage mixture used to create distillers grains “is centrifuged to separate coarse

solids from liquid.” There is no mention of alternative processes.

As Greg Benz, an engineer with more than 40 years of experience in the design of agitation, fermentation and bioreactor systems knows, the use of centrifuge decanters for the production of distillers grains is, in fact, the go-to option for corn dry mill ethanol plants. But he believes there may be room for improvement. Benz is collaborating with Ling Du, president of

Terrace International, who holds a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and also has experience in corn wet milling and grain processing. The two are promoting an alternative to the centrifugal process: the diaphragm filter press.

Understanding the Diaphragm Filter Press

The physics of a filter press are quite


SEPARATION SETUP: A diaphragm filter press works by utilizing differently sized filter cloths, achieving separation by pumping a semi-solid mix through variable media.


different from a centrifuge, which uses the power of gravity to separate solids from liquids through the act of spinning. Some versions spin around a horizontal axis, while others utilize a vertical axis. A diaphragm filter press works on size differences provided through filter media, according to Benz. Using differently sized filter cloths, the press is able to perform the separation process by pumping a semisolid mix through variable media. The sys-

tems are quite large and include rows of plates that hold the cloth filters. “Two big differences between the processes,” Benz says, “are how much power the equipment packages use and how wet the final products are.”

The diaphragm filter press Benz advocates for is built and supplied by Terrace International, a Shanghai-based company. The system is essentially a plate-and-frame filter press with added steps and automa-

tion, he says. In a standard plate-and-frame system, pumps are used to push material into a filter chamber. From there, he explains, the pressure created by the pump drives the solids through the filter cloth. The resulting separation is only as good as the amount of pressure the pumps can create.

The Terrace version adds another step. Once the standard plate-and-frame system pump reaches capacity, a diaphragm plate



system goes into action. Engineered with inflatable diaphragm plates set on every other plate in the filtration system, more solids and liquids are squeezed out of the filter cake as the diaphragm plates are filled with air. As the plates expand, they provide additional pressure on the cake mix, a step that helps press out more water from the mix. Think of it as squeezing juice from an orange, Benz says.

The Intricacies of the Diaphragm Press

Benz believes the main reason an ethanol plant might consider moving to a diaphragm press for distillers grains production is reducing the amount of energy the facility uses in the drying process. “They end up having a more economical plant operation because they are drastically reducing the amount of water that has to be

dried,” he says.

By Benz’s calculations, typical cake moisture post diaphragm filter press is roughly 40 to 50 percent versus 60 to 70 percent using a decanter (horizontal axis centrifuge). Again, these numbers come from Benz; decanter manufacturers may have different figures. Moisture levels don’t represent the only difference between the two, Benz believes.

With a diaphragm filter press process, there are no visible solids in the filtrate after processing through the press, while there are some visible in the decanter, Benz claims. Looking at the effect of inlet feed solids concentrations on outlet cake moisture, there are none in the diaphragm filter

press. But, according to Benz, the outlet cake moisture in a decanter fluctuates as inlet feed solids rise and fall.

On the maintenance side, diaphragm presses can’t fail catastrophically, so they don’t have to be checked or maintained very often. For normal operations of the units, filter plates need to be replaced after three to five years. The filter clothes, made of polypropylene, can last six months or more. Decanters, on the other hand, can fail catastrophically and do require frequent inspection, Benz says. The skill level required to operate a filter press is low, while for a decanter it can be high, he adds.

Greg Benz President, Benz Technology International Ling Du President, Terrace International

Terrace International’s presses are fully automated and can be controlled with a programmable system. The charge pump is driven by an electric motor. The action of opening and closing the plates is done by a combination of hydraulics and an electric motor. The pressurization of the diaphragm plates can be performed by plantprovided pneumatic pressure or another electric pump. A conveyor for the dried mix isn’t always included in the scope of the systems, but it can be, Benz says. And overall, there really isn’t any operating labor.

A diaphragm press also differs in operational time from a decanter. According to Benz, the filter press time, including pressing, squeezing and drying, is about four to six hours, and it happens through a batch process. The respective spatial footprints of the systems are also of note. Although

FILTER FACTOR: Using plates with filter cloth (shown here) and electrical pumps, the standard filter press system can extract water from wet cake. The addition of diaphragms on some of the plates helps to squeeze out more water and reduce drying needs.


they require less energy than a centrifuge setup, they do require more space.

“The setups come in different sizes,” Benz says. A large installation could end up requiring a significant amount of plant space. For a recent customer, the estimate for an entire setup of the 13 filter presses needed to meet the demands of the plant, each unit would span a space of six feet wide by 30 feet long.

There are other differences between a press and a centrifuge. According to Benz, due to rotary friction, decanters require much more energy per unit of production than filter presses, and the wear rate of the decanter components results in more expensive upkeep, Benz claims.

“The main drawbacks of the diaphragm filter press are its spatial footprint and its batch operation,” he says.

Even with the differences in processing time and floor space required, Benz


ton dry solids without feed pump, KW-h/1000 kg d.s.

Energy per ton dry solids with feed pump, KW-h/1000 kg d.s.


14 - 17

Requirement for inlet feed % d.s. Greater than 5% preferred

Effect of inlet feed solids

concentration on outlet cake moisture

Solids in filtrate

Frequency of repair

Main parts needed

No effect

No visible solids

For normal operation, need to replace filter plates after three to five years. Filter cloths last six months or more.

Filter cloths, plates, hydraulic valves, seals

Depends on piping layout

Greater than 15% preferred

Outlet cake moisture fluctuates as inlet feed solids fluctuates

Some visible solids

Inspections daily. In-depth inspection every 2,000-3,000 hours. Rebuild approximately every 20,000 hours; sometimes yearly.

Bearings, scroll, wear plate

Skill level required to repair Low High


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Diaphragm Filter Press Decanter Typical cake moisture, % 40-50
Filter Presses vs. Decanters for
Distillers Grains
2.2 30+

says “the total energy consumption is still much less in the end.”

Diaphragm Filter Presses In the U.S.

In the U.S., filter press technology has not taken off within the ethanol industry, Benz says. They are, however, being used in the mining sector, he explains, noting that the technology has roots in that industry. Generally, filter press use is more common in China.

Benz has been connected to China for many years. Prior to forming his own consulting business, he worked for an agitation equipment firm that serviced clients around the world, including those in Shanghai. Af-

SPINNING IS STANDARD: Although centrifuge decanters require more maintenance and energy than diaphragm filter presses, they are the norm in modern corn ethanol production.


ter working for years and forming relationships with clients there, Benz formed a business partnership with Ling to sell and promote Terrace International systems, including the diaphragm filter press, across several industries. To this day, Benz is still a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

His time in the country has shown him just how popular the diaphragm filter press is. He says there are more than 50 compa-

nies in China using it for DDG production and more than 400 presses in service at those production facilities. For the most part, he adds, producers there don’t use decanter technology as much, instead favoring the filter press method.

Benz is now working to spread the word on this alternative option for DDG production in the U.S. that doesn’t involve the established decanter method. The closest thing he has to field trial data for inter-

ested parties in the U.S. is from the technology’s use in China. And while he knows potential American customers still view the technology as new or different, he says the broad use of diaphragm filter presses in China lends credibility to the effectiveness of the equipment.

UNDER THE HOOD: Depending on the biorefining process and application, centrifuges do require regular maintenance and cleaning. Benz filter presses, in comparison, require much less upkeep and inspection.

in rh ythm with natur e

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