The Broin family, who were the founders of POET, was inspired by the low $2-per-bushel corn prices to write a new future. Using creativity and ingenuity, they learned to produce on farm ethanol with a consistency, allowing them to become a serious industry contender when acquiring a Scotland, N.D., ethanol plant.
Dave Brooks, the general manager of the POET Biorefining Cloverdale Plant spoke at Tuesday evening's Purdue Extension Putnam County Annual Meeting.
"One of the most common questions asked, 'What is the origin of the company name POET?'" Brooks told the audience.
The theme continues on the cover of company literature, as POET's trailer is "Energy Inspired" beneath the company logo.
The Broin family upstart of nearly 30 years ago has now developed into 27 plants nationwide that employ 1,600 team members and produce 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol per year.
"At least four other jobs are supported for each of our employees," Brooks said, referring to the impact local plants have related to other local businesses supporting or utilizing the plant.
POET has four Indiana plants with the other locations being Alexandria, Portland and North Manchester.
The Cloverdale plant was actually POET's first acquisition other than the original South Dakota plant. All of the other plants were built by POET.
Brooks briefly explained the ethanol distilling process. The starch of the corn is used to make ethanol and the remaining portion is used to produce corn oil used for biofuel and also dried distiller grain (DDG) for livestock feed.
Locally, Cloverdale produces 90 million gallons of ethanol per year and 246,500 tons of DDG per year. Currently most of the ethanol is trucked from the plant while much of the DDG is shipped via rail. The local plant takes in an average of 70 truckloads carrying typically 1,000 bushels of corn every day while roughly 30 truckloads of ethanol depart the plant every day.
"Our goal is for our nation to remove its dependence on foreign oil," Brooks said while hailing the successes of ethanol. "POET uses a non-cook distilling process that utilizes chemicals, enzymes, and yeast which allows us to be much more efficient than the cooking distiller processes that loose significant heat energy."
Brooks also challenged those who mistakenly report that ethanol uses more fuel than is produced.
"For every one BTU of energy input, there is now 2.33 BTUs of energy produced," he stressed.
The Cloverdale plant has incorporated a significant water recovery process, minimizing its consumption of water as well.
"To accomplish energy independence, engine manufacturers must be willing to accept higher blends of ethanol and develop engines that perform better with higher blends," Brooks said in reference to a push to increase standard blends at the pump from 10 percent ethanol up to 15 percent.
In Brazil, a country with significant corn production, that country's transportation generally runs on a 50-50 blend of gasoline and ethanol, he noted.
Responding to a question regarding the assertion that ethanol increases food costs, Brooks said, "A semi-truckload of cornflakes would have a corn value of $386 compared to more than $1,000 in transportation costs."
In other words when corn was $2.50 per bushel the value of corn was $0.04 in the box and now if corn is $7.50 per bushel the value of the corn would be three times higher but still only amounting to $0.12 per box. Ethanol does not consume all of the corn as one-third is used for ethanol, one-third is used for feed, and one-third produces carbon dioxide
The future of ethanol will likely move more toward cellulosic ethanol, which is made from plant material like corn stalks, forages, etc. commonly referred to as biomass, he said.
However, storage and transportation of such plant materials provide logistic hurdles.
"With further research it is believed that within 10 years that cellulosic ethanol will be much more prominent," Brooks said, as POET is embarking upon a biomass division within its company structure.