The Poetization of Cloverdale

An idled Indiana plant restarts with $30 million in retrofits
By Susanne Retka Schill | June 13, 2011

Pulling off Interstate 70 heading west from Indianapolis, one can barely see the ethanol plant, but coming over the hill on the drive into the campus, the structures of Poet’s newest ethanol plant spread out in front of you. For those familiar with the 26 other Poet-built plants, Poet Biorefining-Cloverdale is not quite the same. For one, most Poet plants have nearly all equipment enclosed in buildings while the Vogelbusch design has fewer enclosures, and a larger footprint.

The Cloverdale plant, with a nameplate capacity of 90 MMgy, was built for AltraBiofuels. Groundbreaking took place in October 2006, and construction was completed early in 2008. A sister plant in Coshocton, Ohio, broke ground a few months earlier. Coming online in early 2008, the plants began production in the midst of high-priced corn, tight ethanol margins and the broader recession.  By the end of the year, both were idled. AltraBiofuels still has the Ohio plant, plus one in Goshen, Calif. In addition, its sister company, EdeniQ Inc., broke ground in May on its Corn-to-Cellulosic Migration pilot plant at EdeniQ’s headquarters in Visalia, Calif. The Cloverdale plant, however, was put on the auction block.

Cloverdale is Poet’s first acquisition. “We looked at every plant for sale,” Poet CEO Jeff Broin said in an interview following the re-opening ceremonies in March. “Cloverdale was very attractive—it had the grain supply, good electric rates, natural gas, road access. This facility was on the top.” The facility had good rail access on CSX rail, and a state highway and Interstate 70 provide good truck access. Just as importantly, it would lend itself to installing Poet’s technology in key areas. The purchase price and refitting, Broin said, “were slightly less than a new facility—a 20 percent savings.” The purchase was announced June 2010 and the Poet engineering staff was on site by late summer, making modifications. “We wanted to take the technology up a notch and Poetize the facility.”

When considering ethanol plant locations, the first consideration is whether there is enough corn in the area. Allen Cline, an area farmer attending the opening ceremonies, explained Cloverdale is on the southern edge of Indiana’s prime row crop land. Putnam County, where Cloverdale is located, raises around 9 million bushels of corn annually. The next county north raises 22 million bushels while the next county south raises 2 million bushels. Having the ethanol plant in the market has improved the local price for corn by 15 to 20 cents per bushel, he added. Local residents are a bit skeptical about the plant, though, considering two large new ethanol plants in Indiana ran into problems in 2008, he said.

Many of those farmers and area residents were on hand for the brief opening ceremonies and the lunch and plant tours that followed in mid-March. The ceremonies included remarks from Poet representatives and state dignitaries. “The Poet investment means a lot to Indiana,” said Lt. Gov. Becky Stillman. She recalled 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.” The boost in local morale was evident at the opening ceremony and the lunch and plant tours that followed.

The ceremonies were the culmination of several months of hard work, held just a week before the first grind was scheduled and the long process of restarting the plant begun—not a simple restart due to all the retrofits accomplished in the previous nine months. It was also Poet’s first retrofit—all of its other 26 plants were Poet designs from the ground up. “We were able to draw from our experiences and relationships building new plants,” General Manager Dave Brooks says. “We have continually updated Poet plants with the latest technologies available, which helped us prepare for this opportunity.”

The retrofit included adding two 650,000 bushel bins, doubling corn storage to 2.4 million bushels. Even as the new construction began, corn was being delivered to fill the existing bins. The seven new mills for grinding corn were installed to replace the ones originally installed . The plant’s cook process was replaced with Poet’s BPX no-cook technology, and the fermentation alley was enclosed. Work was done on the dryers to make them more efficient and the regenerative thermal oxidizer was replaced with two five-chamber RTOs. The retrofits also included installing Poet’s Total Water Recovery System, replacing the water treatment system that created issues during AltraBiofuel’s startup. “We will not discharge any process water,” Brooks says.

The Poet technologies are aimed at improving efficiency and environmental performance. The BPX technology, for example, reduces energy costs by 15 percent, compared to a cook process, while it increases production yield, improves the distillers grain nutrient profile and reduces air emissions. The Total Water Recovery eliminates water discharge, a new technology now installed at about half of Poet’s facilities. Many areas, of course, were left unchanged. “One of the realities involved with retrofit projects is that there are certain mechanical and application issues that don’t economically justify modification,” Brooks adds.

Local farmers and truckers saw improvements, too. “A lot of people who were familiar with the plant, tell us they’ve seen a tremendous improvement in how we’re bringing in grain and loading out DDGS,” Brooks says. A Poet plant typically scales trucks at a separate scale house, but in Cloverdale, the weighs were built over the pits. With attention paid to improving flow patterns, trucks are moving in and out at a much quicker pace.    

As the Poet engineering group worked with local contractors to complete the retrofits, Brooks, who joined Poet a couple of years ago after a 20-year career in plastics manufacturing, was on-site Oct. 1 to begin the hiring process. Five key positions were filled by Poet employees coming from other plants, most of whom like Brooks, were relatively new with Poet. Seven AltraBiofuels employees were hired back, several of whom worked for the company that maintained the facility while it was idle. In all, the plant added 48 direct jobs to the community. Of those, 26 technicians were hired through the state’s WorkOne program, and in April the plant was honored by the Indiana Workforce Develop with its achievement award. 

The total bill for Poetizing the plant came to $30 million, accomplished within budget and in nine months. “The plant achieved nameplate capacity on schedule,” Brooks says. “We’re very proud of how quickly we’ve been able to bring the plant to this production level. The plant was shut down for two years, so there were bound to be a few hiccups as we started production, but we’ve been able to overcome those issues.”

Author: Susanne Retka Schill
Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine
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