Aventine working to update Pekin plants, including boiler upgrade

By Holly Jessen | February 28, 2014

Aventine Renewable Energy is in the midst of a two-year strategic plan to bring its two ethanol plants located in Pekin, Ill., back up to and above original production levels. That includes a project under way right now, to replace three aging coal boilers with natural gas-fired boilers.

The Pekin complex includes a wet mill ethanol plant, a smaller Fagen Inc.-designed dry mill ethanol plant and a food- and feed-grade yeast plant. The two ethanol plants have a combined capacity of 160 MMgy. However, the three plants were doing poorly under the previous management team. “They had almost put zero capital expenditure into the facilities here in Pekin for almost 7 to 8 years,” said Mark Beemer, who stepped in as president and CEO of Aventine in December 2012. “When I got here, the wet mill plant was operating at less than 80 percent of capacity, the Fagen dry mil was almost, not even operating. There were major issues with our yeast plant. The company was in complete disarray.”

Aventine was a publically traded company until September 2012, when it went back to being a private company. A new board was then established, which appointed Beemer as president and charged him with leading the transition to a new management team. Since that time about fifty employees have been replaced by new people, Beemer told Ethanol Producer Magazine. “This is a complete turnaround of a failing business,” he said.

Beemer convinced Aventine’s equity owners that the three Pekin plants were viable and ripe for reinvestment. Additional fundraising was completed in June 2013 and repair and maintenance work commenced. “We have a roughly $30 million capital expenditure program just for Pekin alone,” he said.

For example, the company has done a lot of work to correct a long-term fermentation issue, which is now about 85 percent fixed. In fact, in October and December the company broke records for ethanol production. Other capital expenditure projects include improvements to the plants’ dryers and the front end starch separation machines in the wet mill. Updates to the corn handling facility will allow Aventine to accept 60 trucks per hour and accommodate 115 rail car shuttles for 15 hour unloads, Beemer said.

The $12.5 million project to install two large high pressure natural gas boilers purchased from Indeck Power Equipment Co. is about to start. The boilers arrived at the facility on specialized rail cars over the weekend and will be put in place next week, he said. The goal is to have the boilers installed and working by June 1.

The company embarked on the project to replace the boilers for multiple reasons. “One of the major issues facing the company early on in my career here was just the unreliable performance of the coal boilers and also the extremely high maintenance cost to repair and fix any issues,” he said, adding that engineering studies showed severe air leakage and other inefficiencies meant it wasn’t economic to retrofit the old coal boilers to burn natural gas. The coal boilers were installed in 1944, 1946 and 1957, Beemer said, describing the equipment as vintage.

Another reason Aventine is replacing the boilers is to comply with U.S. EPA standards for sulfur dioxide emissions. Switching to natural gas boilers will allow the company to comply with Maximum Achievable Control Technology Rules, commonly known as MACT, in advance of the 2016 deadline.

Aventine owns four other ethanol plants, none of which are currently operating. The company is working toward potentially restarting and updating the 110 MMgy and 45 MMgy plants in Aurora, Neb., he said. A buyer is being sought for the 38 MMgy plant in Canton, Ill., and the 110 MMgy plant in Mount Vernon, Ind.