Abengoa restarts 30 MMgy Portales ethanol plant

By Holly Jessen | January 12, 2011

After nearly two years of sitting idle, the 30 MMgy Abengoa Bioenergy Corp. plant in Portales, N.M., restarted Jan 12. A skeleton crew had been on site during the shutdown, with the number of employees increasing recently in preparation for the restart. “They’ve been working on it for a few months,” said Greg Fisher, executive director of the Roosevelt County Community Development Corp.

There’s now a full crew of 47 people working at the plant. The company was able to rehire 40 percent of the employees that worked there before the layoffs, Fisher told EPM. Some of the workforce includes fill-in employees from other Abengoa locations that will work there temporarily, until a full staff is hired on at that location. “We expect normal production levels to be achieved in the near future,” Chris Standlee, executive vice president of Abengoa told EPM.

A key reason Abengoa decided to resume operations was the extension of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, or the blenders credit, Fisher said. That’s something Sen. Jeff Bingaman worked hard on for New Mexico. “Why shouldn’t we pay a penny or two to ensure that our fuels come from American soil versus the alternatives that are not under our control?” Fisher said.

Other factors include more favorable market conditions and increasing demand, said Javier Salgado, Abengoa’s president and CEO. He also mentioned the expansion of ethanol blends as something that the company expects will have a positive impact on the ethanol industry. Abengoa anticipates that ethanol produced in Portales will have a higher value under the provisions of the Energy Investment and Security Act of 2005, which established the Renewable Fuel Standard, and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. “Due to its energy efficient production setup and the unique sorghum feedstock, which is typically grown without irrigation in Roosevelt County and the surrounding region, Abengoa’s Portales plant is a model for sustainable American fuel production that can help our rural farmers maintain their way of life while also preserving our precious water resources,” Salgado said. The Portales plant is the only ethanol plant located in New Mexico.

The plant is located in Portales’ industrial park, only 20 miles from the main Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, making Texas and California, primary markets for the plant, easily reached via rail. The distillers grains, which is sold wet, has a good market in the area, which includes more than 40 large dairies as well as America’s largest cheese factory.

Having the plant up and running again is great news for Portales and the surrounding area. The plant produces ethanol primarily from dryland sorghum or milo, providing clean energy solutions for the U.S. as well as good paying jobs for American workers. In addition, Abengoa is a global leader in clean energy, with projects in solar power, ethanol and more. “All those together makes it a pretty exciting package for us,” he said.

Production capacity at the Portales plant was doubled in 2006, according to the Abengoa website. The plant utilizes batch cooking and fermentation processes with two separate distillation and dehydration stages.