Canadian software company targets ethanol producers

By Kris Bevill | August 10, 2009
Report posted Sept. 4, 2009, at 11:25 a.m. CST

Canada-based STI Corp. said despite current difficulties within the industry, ethanol is a growth market and long-term energy demands will prove it's an industry worth investing in. The manufacturing operations management company last year determined that ethanol should be a part of the company's long-term strategy and is now focused on providing ethanol producers with its Manufacturing Execution Systems as a way to increase plant productivity and reduce costs.

Company founder Charles Horth said STI has been providing MES' to other manufacturing facilities for the past 15 years and said the software can easily be applied at ethanol plants. "To put it very simply, there are three layers in a plant in terms of information management," he said. "The control layer, which is basically the things that open and close the valves, heats up the tanks, etc.; the upper layer, which includes the systems that are used for financials, ordering, etc.; and the middle layer, which manages the plant - tracking all the material that flows into the plant, yield, etc." Horth said the key purpose of installing an integrated system at an ethanol plant is to manage these three areas to produce higher yields per bushel of corn and gain additional insight and information about the plant's operations in order to make better decisions.

So far, the company has partnered with several Brazilian ethanol producers and is courting several North American corn ethanol producers. System costs range from $300,000 to $1.2 million depending on the size of the plant, according to Horth, but because STI guarantees its systems through a risk-sharing program, the ethanol plant is able to install the system with no money up front. "If we are not improving production, quality, efficiency and use of raw materials, we don't get paid, which is quite different from most companies," Horth said.

The company's target facility is one that produces more than 30 MMgy, but achieves less than 2.7 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. Horth said there are many ethanol facilities that qualify under these conditions although, for some, the offer has come too late. "We believe in some cases, some plants would have avoided filing Chapter 11 if they had a similar MES system - not all, but some."