Poet celebrates opening of 27th plant in Cloverdale Ind.

By Susanne Retka Schill | March 15, 2011

The weather outside was cool and rainy as a crowd gathered in the empty distillers grains building to celebrate the reopening of the ethanol plant at Cloverdale, Ind., under  Poet LLC management. Poet purchased the 90 MMgy bankrupt plant last summer, and over the past eight months invested $30 million to install several Poet technologies and other upgrades.

The ceremonies had the flavor of a political rally, with the American Legion presenting the colors, the high school choir singing the national anthem and an invocation from a local pastor. Sen. Richard Lugar’s deputy state director Lane Ralph presented Poet a flag flown over the nation’s capitol and Lt. Gov. Becky Stillman addressed the estimated 500 farmers and townspeople who gathered for the program. “The Poet investment means a lot to Indiana,” she said, commenting on how the closing of the AltraBiofuels facility a few months after it started up in 2008 was “a drain on the economy and a drain on local morale as well.” There was only one ethanol plant in Indiana in 2005 when she first entered office, she added, and there are now 13. Just as important, she said, “there are now 100 communities in Indiana where the public can get E85.” Fifth in the nation in corn production, Indiana will now be producing over 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year with the restart of the plant at Cloverdale.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis also spoke to the group which included his two brothers who continue to farm where he grew up, just six miles from the ethanol plant. He sounded the familiar themes of Growth Energy’s Fueling Freedom plan, and encouraged people in the room to sign up and add to the number of 30,000 Growth Force members supporting ethanol.

Poet CEO Jeff Broin also encouraged the group to “get involved. Your friends and families need to hear from you about ethanol.” Broin shared the story of how the company got its start with on-farm production and the purchase of the small plant at Scotland, S.D., that still serves as the company’s research center. Over 10,000 farmers are investors in the 27 plants operated by Poet and 30,000 farmers deliver grain to the facilities across the corn belt. Total production now tops 1.7 billion gallons per year at Poet facilities.

The $30 million in upgrades at Cloverdale includes the most recent water-saving technology now installed in 13 of the company’s plants. The total water recovery technology cleans and recycles water through the plant, eliminating discharge. Poet also installed its trademarked BPX cold cook technology, new regenerative thermal oxidizers, doubled the grain holding capacity and other made improvements.

The rain quit after the opening ceremony and lunch in time for tours to begin. With the grain silos filled with corn, the newly hired staff completing their training, first grind is expected to start next week.