The Way I See It

Plant maintenance continually improves ethanol process
By Mike Bryan | August 27, 2007
One particular article in this issue of EPM is focused on plant maintenance. Having spent a number of my early years in the industry in plant operations, I know that the proper care and maintenance of a plant is a critical component to its longevity and profitability.

Often, the attention is directed toward the marketing of ethanol, the procurement of the grain and the overall management of the plant. These things are important, but without a finely tuned plant maintenance program, they mean little. The average 50 MMgy ethanol plant has hundreds of pumps, motors, valves, and miles of piping and monitoring points. Needless to say, many things can go wrong on any given day, and it is up to the highly skilled team of maintenance people to try to anticipate trouble before it happens. When problems do occur, it is up to them to take fast action and do whatever is necessary to keep the plant running.

I know this seems like a rather obvious observation, but many who aren't involved in the day-to-day running of an ethanol plant don't understand the dollars that are on the line when a breakdown occurs. A 50 MMgy plant will generate over $14,000 of revenue per hour and $3,000 of profit per hour. This only accounts for lost revenueŚnot parts, equipment and potentially lost product. Maintenance is crucial to plant profitability.

Over the years, there have been a number of major technological advancements made in the industry that have reduced the cost of production. However, these changes pale in comparison to the minor, often unmentioned changes that are made to the process by the folks working in the plant. These are people with hands-on experience, who understand their jobs inside and out and see ways to improve the process to make it more efficient.

With a penny shaved here and 2 cents there, major reductions in operational and production costs are achieved over the years by skilled people making minor tweaks to the process. As we look ahead to the development of cellulosic ethanol, the same simple principles will apply. A commercial-scale plant, staffed with qualified people who are allowed the flexibility to be creative in their thinking, will begin almost immediately finding ways to improve the process.

So to everyone who keeps the plants running day and night, thanks for your ingenuity, dedication and spirit of commitment. You are the backbone of this industry.

That's the way I see it!

Mike Bryan
Publisher & CEO
[email protected]