Landmark Moment

This spring, Homeland Energy Solutions LLC reached its two billionth gallon milestone, a production mark that gives special context to the Iowa ethanol plant’s 13 years of operation, expansion and change.
By Katie Schroeder | June 02, 2022

In April, Homeland Energy Solutions LLC produced its two-billionth gallon of ethanol, reaching the milestone in just 13 years. It is an accomplishment the company’s President and CEO Telly Papasimakis calls “a testament to Homeland’s culture of hard work and sense of integrity.” But it’s also a monumental feat made possible by the company’s decision to double the facility’s size five years ago, an undertaking that required vision, adept leadership and courage.

Located in northeastern Iowa between the towns of New Hampton and Lawler, Homeland is currently operating at nearly 200 MMgy. The plant has been online since 2009, starting up as a 100 MMgy facility before expanding in 2017, a project that boosted its distillation capacity, added a third energy center and enhanced virtually every area of the plant.

Like most U.S. ethanol producers, Homeland added distillers corn oil (DCO) production to its portfolio early on, one of many investments the plant has made to become a more diversified biorefinery. Today, Homeland produces nearly 70 million pounds of DCO and more than 440,000 pounds of DDGS. In 2021, the plant added the capacity to produce 20 MMgy of USP-grade ethanol, an endeavor that came about during the pandemic when Homeland rose to the challenge of helping the nation produce alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Today, Papasimakis says Homeland’s chief objective—after hitting its two-billionth gallon—remains clear. “Our mission is to produce ethanol and its coproducts profitably, enhancing returns to our stakeholders and surrounding communities,” he says. “We have a culture based on principled entrepreneurship, which means we strive to combine an unwavering desire to anticipate and cost-effectively satisfy our customers’ needs.”

That community-oriented, entrepreneurial spirit drives Homeland, both as a company and as a an engaged neighbor to the towns near it. Papasimakis believes success at the plant benefits everyone in the region. He tells Ethanol Producer Magazine that the plant’s management strives to cultivate a “discovery mentality” throughout the workplace that fosters innovation, efficiency and product enrichment, always doing so with an emphasis on safety and environmental stewardship. “That core set of values, shared by our employees, has been key to building a business that is sustainable over the long term,” he says.   

Homeland’s History
Commissioned in April of 2009, Homeland initially started up with a 100 MMgy nameplate capacity, consuming roughly 37 million bushels of corn annually during its first eight years of operation. As planned, Homeland quickly became an appreciated taker of area corn. The company was founded by eight individuals from the area, each experienced in building or operating agriculture enterprises. Initially, Homeland’s staffing was relatively lean, but the company utilized industry resources to train and educate personnel, and eventually built a talented team of its own.

Through optimization and expansion, Homeland was able to produce its first billion gallons of ethanol in roughly seven-and-a-half years—well ahead of the 10-year standard for a 100 MMgy plant.

Following the 2007 expansion, the second billion gallons of ethanol was produced in about five-and-a-half years. “That first billionth gallon is like hitting a home run, especially doing it as quickly as we did, and then for the two-billionth gallon, that’s like hitting a grand slam,” says Maintenance Manager Scott Bauer, who has been with Homeland since its inception.

Bauer and his colleagues have seen tremendous technological advancement over the years, things like Wi-Fi and wireless transmitters that make it easier to catch maintenance issues before they become a problem. “Having continuous on-time data helps us monitor the equipment health,” he says. “This gives us time to proactively plan for repairs, reducing or eliminating interruptions to the operation of the plant.”

Homeland has also expanded its maintenance core competencies and knowledge over time. Bauer says his team now routinely does work in-house, like centrifuge rebuilds, that it previously couldn’t. “A lot of the things we used to farm out, we do in house,” he says. “That’s been a big change on the maintenance side.”

And the plant is not just larger, but more efficient than it was 13 years ago, and achieving upper-echelon ethanol and coproduct yields. “We’ve been able to expand our coproducts, and we don’t look at ethanol as our chief product anymore,” says Homeland Plant Manager and COO Mike Peterman. “We look at it as a coproduct with DDGS and corn oil, and every year those yields improve.” Peterman credits these accomplishments to the plant’s vigilant and technically nimble personnel. “Every day we work to minimize issues, lowering the impact to day-to-day operations,” he says. “A strong team can be very flexible and can adjust quickly and safely under any circumstances.”

Agricultural partnerships have played a role in the plant’s success, too, both with grain producers and commercial grain handlers. The plant’s consumption of area corn has allowed a lot of it to “stay local” and “move year-round” as opposed to being delivered to a river terminal for export only eight months of the year. “Ethanol production has not only supported local corn prices but allowed consistent year-round access to end-user markets that help farmers throughout the year,” Papasimakis says, adding that since the plant’s inception, Homeland has produced not just 2 billion gallons of ethanol, but over 4.6 million tons of DDGS, 460 million pounds of corn oil and crushed more than 685 million bushels of corn.

Evolving with the Industry
Peterman says being a good environmental steward—caring about energy consumption, emissions and carbon—is compatible with Homeland’s entrepreneurial nature. “We’re always looking at ways to drive down the amount of [natural] gas demand in the plant, drive down the amount of water that we use, just everything,” he says, explaining that Homeland is one of more than 30 ethanol plants engaged with the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline, which will aggregate CO2 from participating ethanol plants for permanent sequestration in a deep underground reservoir in North Dakota.

Papasimakis says carbon capture and sequestration is one of Homeland’s core strategies for dramatically lowering the carbon intensity rating of the ethanol it produces; it’s also part of a three-pronged strategy for success that includes reducing the plant’s carbon footprint, branching out into new product lines and making sure the plant is being run at peak utility. “These three elements have contributed to our success in adapting to fluctuations in the ethanol industry,” he says.

While the ethanol industry has been making efficiency gains for years, Peterman sees an even stronger focus on efficiency and carbon reduction now. “[We are] always looking at ways to improve efficiencies and produce more with less energy,” he says, sharing that Homeland has made major  energy center upgrades in recent years. The plant added a turbine and generator which produce about one-third of its electricity. “The electricity from the turbine means less energy pulled from the grid,” says Peterman, explaining that the system is another way Homeland is reducing its carbon intensity score.

Next Billion Gallons
Looking ahead, Papasimakis says the ethanol industry must remain adaptive to succeed and thrive. And he believes it will, saying, “That’s been the most impressive thing that I’ve seen from successful operators in this space.”

 Already thinking about Homeland’s three-billionth gallon—five years from now—Papasimakis says Homeland will remain focused on making an already “sustainable, green product even greener.” He says the ethanol market can be challenging, but new technologies will help move ethanol producers forward. He hopes to take the knowledge and success Homeland has gained over the years producing corn-based ethanol and apply it to future opportunities.

Peterman shares Papasimakis’ optimism about what’s next. He says the dedication and drive of Homeland’s team is what gives him the most confidence about the plant’s future. “We’ve got a strong team that knows how to win, and they enjoy success,” Peterman says. “They push each other to strive to be the best they can be.”

Bauer echoes this sentiment, saying that the teamwork at Homeland is what made the plant’s “grand slam” happen. “None of this could be possible without the employees that we have, and the teamwork that we always step up to the plate with,” he says.

Papasimakis agrees, saying, “The future of Homeland is bright. As we continue to expand our mission and utilize technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, our people, our shareholders and the communities around us will continue to grow and benefit for years to come.”

Author: Katie Schroeder
Contact: [email protected]