NCERC training gives ethanol plant process overview

By | April 23, 2007
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The National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) in Edwardsville, Ill., has expanded its workforce training to include regularly scheduled week-long classes giving an overview of the ethanol process. Soon, it will also offer day-long, in-depth seminars on specific topics such as plant safety. The center will continue the internship program offered since its inception in 2004.

Pam Keck, assistant director of workforce development and scientific projects at the center, said January's first full-week class at the center included displaced auto workers from Michigan. "When I met them in the hotel Sunday night, I showed them a cartoon-like diagram of the ethanol process and told them they'd have it memorized by the end of the week," she said. "They said, 'No way.' By the end of the week, they had it and knew things like the difference between alpha-amylase and gluco-amylase, their functions, when to put them in and why temperatures are important."

NCERC staff members were joined by industry personnel to teach the classes. Aventine Renewable Energy's head of safety helped teach the first day's safety class. On the second day, two trainers from Novozymes North America Inc. talked about liquefaction and saccharification. Ethanol Technology Institute personnel spoke about yeast and propagation, and the head of DENCO LLC's lab spoke about lab analytics. The speakers' names weren't available at press time. The class also used a computer training center donated by Siemens USA that duplicates the most common process control system used in the ethanol industry. The training includes both morning classroom sessions and afternoon sessions in the center's pilot-scale ethanol plant.

Other topics include fermentation, distillation, coproducts and utilities. The center also shows students the "designing a curriculum," or DACUM, model developed by one of the semi-retired professors who helps teach. All the separate tasks involved in a process operator's job are itemized on a spreadsheet, which can be used to track whether an individual employee has received training on each of the separate skills and tasks.

Keck said the next step in the NCERC's workforce training mission is to break down the topics covered in the process overview into individual day-long sessions that cover the topics in more depth. "We would like to have a whole day of training on environmental topics, and a whole day on energy and how to be more efficient," she gave as examples.

The center also customizes training sessions for interested clients. A recent session for a major grain company entering the ethanol business gave the top executives an overview of the ethanol industry, talked about misconceptions and presented an overview of the ethanol process.

The cost for the week-long course is $2,500, including materials and lunch. The schedule for class offerings is posted on the center's Web site at