Re-opened Aventine plant will provide much-needed jobs

By Holly Jessen | February 02, 2012

The long and frustrating wait for ethanol production at the 38 MMgy ethanol plant built in Canton, Ill., appears to finally be coming to an end. Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings Inc. announced Jan. 31 that it was resuming work to restart the plant, with production expected to begin this summer.

Folton County Illinois, of which Canton is the largest town, badly needs the jobs the operating ethanol plant will provide, Mark Rothert, executive director of the Spoon River Partnership for Economic Development, told EPM. County unemployment levels are at around 10 percent, higher than state and national averages. Anything that brings jobs to the area is greatly appreciated. “They’ll be a major stakeholder in this county once they are up and running,” he said, adding that about 15,000 people live in Canton and 37,000 in the county as a whole.

The ethanol plant has had a troubled history. It started out as Central Illinois Energy, which filed for bankruptcy in 2007 before construction was completed. It was revived as Riverland Biofuels but ethanol production happened only intermittently before it shut down the spring of 2010. Aventine purchased the troubled ethanol plant for $16.5 million in the summer of 2010.

In September 2011 Aventine announced it would delay start up of the ethanol plant because the company that designed the ethanol plant’s integrated boiler system and co-gen unit wasn’t available to assist in the start up process. The company said at the time that it planned to resume the process in early 2012, which it is now doing. "Now is the time to move forward with this project,” said Aventine’s CEO John Castle. “We have secured the critical third-party support necessary for the commissioning process. Additionally, we currently have approximately $50 million of combined cash and availability under our revolver.”

On Feb. 1, Aventine employees met with Rothert and a few other Canton officials, including the mayor. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce themselves and personally share the news that work would begin to restart the ethanol plant. Aventine is working to get the bugs worked out of the plant, Rothert said, and has asked for assistance in updating infrastructure around the plant. For example, the county highway outside the ethanol plant, which will be handling increased truck traffic once the plant is operating, needs improvement. The economic development group will assist in that process by attempting to secure grants, he said. 

Aventine emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 and resumed work on its 110 MMgy ethanol plants in Aurora, Neb. and Mount Vernon, Ind. A grand opening for Mount Vernon was held April 2011 but, although the Aurora plant is mechanically complete, it has yet to begin ethanol production.