More ethanol plants help produce hand sanitizers

By Erin Voegele | April 01, 2020

Two federal agencies relaxed regulations in March to allow producers of fuel ethanol and beverage alcohol help produce hand sanitizer to combat the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Several ethanol producers are already taking action help produce the much-needed product.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued guidance on March 18 announcing that it is waiving provisions of internal revenue law with regard to distilled spirits, and is providing certain exemptions and authorizations to distilled spirits permittees who wish to produce ethanol-based hand sanitizers to address the demand for such products during the COVID-19 emergency.

The agency said it is exempting alcohol fuel producers and distilled spirits producers from the requirement to obtain additional permits or bonds to manufacture hand sanitizer or to supply ethanol for use in the manufacture of hand sanitizer to other TTB permittees who are authorized to receive such distilled spirits. Alcohol fuel producers and distilled spirit producers must continue to keep records of their operations, including any undertaken as authorized under this exemption, the TTB said.

The following week, on March 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new temporary guidelines that allows fuel ethanol producers to provide alcohol for hand sanitizers so long as the production facility can ensure certain purity and sanitation standards.  

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association announced on April 1 that Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy and Lakeview Plymouth Ethanol have donated shipments of ethanol to the state of Iowa for the production of hand sanitizer. Iowa Prison Industries will produce the product, which will be distributed for free by the state for priority use.

“Even in the face of horrible plant economics, it’s gratifying to see how Iowa biofuel producers continue to step up to help our state in the midst of this pandemic,” Monte Shaw, director of the IRFA. “In a time when fuel demand is down and biofuel producers are hurting, we applaud Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, Lakeview Plymouth Energy, and other biofuel companies who are still working hard to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 by aiding in the critical production of hand sanitizer.”

According to the IRFA, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds launched the IPI hand sanitizer program to utilize Iowa’s abundant ethanol and glycerin production to help ease the shortage of hand sanitizer. Glycerin is produced as a coproduct of biodiesel production. IPI worked to overcome regulatory hurdles and supply issues for other components in the FDA’s approved hand sanitizer formula, the IRFA said.

“Given Iowa’s production of ethanol and glycerin, this sounded simple, but I can assure you it has taken a lot of hard work and ingenuity,” added Shaw. “After Gov. Reynolds provided the leadership to jumpstart this program, IPI has done incredible work securing the needed components, dealing with shipping, production and safety issues. It’s been a pleasure to work with them because IPI simply refused to take ‘no’ for an answer and have successfully put out thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer with more being produced every day.”

The IRFA previously announced that ethanol producer Absolute Energy and biodiesel producer Western Iowa Energy had donated ethanol and glycerin to the state of Iowa to be used by IPI to produce hand sanitizer. A variety of other ethanol producers, including Green Plains and Aemetis have also provided ethanol for use in hand sanitizers.