Northeast Missouri Grain, LLC: doubling production

20 mmgy plant expected to produce over 40 mmgy by early summer 2003
By | April 01, 2002
Jeff Broin, CEO of Broin Companies, recently told Ethanol Producer Magazine that keeping an ethanol plant running at peak capacity during an expansion is like remodeling your home without moving out. . . aside from a few hundred pipes and valves, of course.

And Broin should know. His company, Broin & Associates, the design/build arm of Broin Companies, has completed no less than five expansion projects in the U.S., most recently completing an expansion of EXOL, in Albert Lea, Minn. Even with the original blueprints accounting for expansion, he said, the job is never easy, nor quick.

"In my opinion, there are less challenges in building a new - "greenfield" - ethanol plant, than expanding an existing facility," Broin said. "Yet we design and build these plants with expansion in mind."

And that's exactly what began this month four miles east of Macon, Missouri, where Northeast Missouri Grain, LLC, currently a 15 mmgy nameplate plant producing in the range of 20 to 22 mmgy annually, is undergoing an expansion to effectively double its capacity to 36 mmgy. The project began April 22, and should be completed in 12 to 14 months. When finished in the late spring or early summer of 2003, Broin said, it is extremely likely that the plant will quickly reach upwards of 40 mmgy.

Cool under pressure
At the helm of daily operations is General Manager Steve Burnett, a Texas native who came to Macon with 27 years of production management experience in the food and ag-processing industries - but little experience in ethanol production - before joining Broin's management team in 1999.

"Ethanol production has been a great experience for me," Burnett told Ethanol Producer Magazine. "The industry is a perfect fit for my background and experience."

And it is a job with no shortage of challenges and rewards. Being the southern most ethanol plant in the Broin system, Burnett said, one of the biggest challenges at the facility is operating in high heat and humidity in the summer months.

"These dry-mill plants love cold weather - they do well in the cold," Burnett said. "Yet, we manage to do very well in our location by maintaining an extra large chiller to remove heat from the liquid stream."

The plant currently has an 800-ton chiller (as compared to a similar plant in Minnesota that would have a 500-ton chiller) and, Burnett explained, the expansion will add two more 800-ton chillers to the operation.

Among other areas of expansion, four additional fermenters will be installed at Northeast Missouri Grain, while ethanol storage capacity will be tripled, Burnett said.

"The more ethanol we produce, the more storage we'll need for purposes of shipping," he explained. "We're looking at loading multiple rail cars at one time, and we'll appreciate the extra capacity when that happens."

A carbon dioxide liquefaction plant (the only plant of its kind in Missouri) will also be installed at the Northeast Missouri Grain, producing 400 tons per year. Missouri, a large consumer of carbon dioxide, offers extensive marketing opportunities for the byproduct.

When the work is done, Burnett said, Northeast Missouri Grain will add 7 or 8 new employees (including a CO2 plant manager) to the 32 men and women currently employed at the plant.

Proficiently hiring and training new employees is essential for the management team at Northeast Missouri Grain. Burnett said watching the employees gain experience, and grow together as a team, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his job. Likewise, he said, the employees maintain a wonderful relationship with the boards of directors who oversee both the co-op and the LLC.

Broin added, "The board of directors and the management and staff of Northeast Missouri Grain are first rate, a shining example of how well a project can operate."

Two years and running
Due to the hard work and dedication of hundreds of farmers and state officials, Northeast Missouri Grain, LLC was the first ethanol plant built in Missouri. It was completed in April of 2000, about one year after construction began. The grand opening events, held two years ago this month, were the first of their kind in Missouri - not only for an ethanol plant, but for a new generation, farmer-owned, value-added cooperative as well. The grand opening of the facility was deemed a "gigantic step forward for Missouri agriculture."

The LLC is 81 percent farmer-owned, with four non-producer owners holding the remaining 19 percent. Broin Companies have an ownership stake in the operation, manage the facility and market the plant's ethanol and coproducts through Ethanol Products and Dakota Commodities respectively.

No market fears
After raising nearly $7 million in equity in just 6 days, Broin said, there was little hesitation among investors after March 15, when California Gov. Gray Davis announced his decision to delay the MTBE ban until January 1, 2004.

"That decision really didn't slow us down," Broin said. "The potential market that will be created by the renewable fuels standard (RFS) is very attractive to the industry right now. Broin Companies has grown every year - and we continue to grow steadily. Northeast Missouri Grain, and the other plants we manage, are doing just fine. We are confident moving forward with this expansion, and we look forward to getting the job done." n