Energy at Work
Every couple of years, this magazine conducts an ethanol plant salary and job satisfaction survey that routinely yields more than its name promises. The results of this biannual poll provide a representative snapshot of industry compensation trends and conditions while, more broadly, placing a finger on the pulse of ethanol’s workforce. Organizing the data into easy-to-consume facts and figures, we often reveal more than just paychecks, but the strengths, vulnerabilities and general state of ethanol plant employment.
In “Work in the Ethanol Industry,” starting on page 20, EPM Managing Editor Susanne Retka Schill—chief architect of this year’s survey—breaks down the results with a data-rich narrative framed by infographics. The story highlights both expected and unexpected information. It’s clear, for instance, that ethanol plants are still great places to work: They offer excellent salary and strong benefits, especially compared to other small town opportunities. However, while job satisfaction is high, attrition may be rising. The industry’s growing number of retirees and more normalized employee turnover, could signal a tightening of the niche ethanol workforce.
Next, we turn to plant operations in “Shining Light on Energy Efficiency,” on page 28. In this story, EPM Associate Editor Ann Bailey shares ethanol producer perspectives on reducing energy consumption. For most, the cost of natural gas is the second highest plant expenditure after feedstock. Corn and natural gas are, of course, both commodities that can be hedged, but only the latter can be materially reduced through design engineering and power optimization. The adoption of new technologies can also reduce energy intake, but producers warn that the opposite can also be true.
Among the more abundant power-consuming machines in an ethanol plant are electrical motors used to power fans, pumps, conveyors, compressors and the like. In “Taming the Power-Hungry Beast,” on page 36, BBI Senior Staff Writer Ron Kotrba looks at how updated federal regulations, along with advances in motor technology, are pushing electrical motor efficiency to new heights. Kotrba reports that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are making more efficient motors by using materials and configurations that allow the machines to run cooler, with less friction. And even though these motors are at or near theoretical maximum efficiencies, competitive OEMs keep clawing at gains.
Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief