POET-Coon Rapids Celebrates 15th Anniversary

 

POET-Coon Rapids will celebrate its 15th anniversary at its ethanol plant site three miles east of Coon Rapids (1015 Grant Avenue) this Saturday from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.  and all area residents are invited! 

            It hardly seems possible that more than 15 years have passed since construction commenced and the plant started grinding corn on August 9, 2002.  At the time, this newspaper published a special section highlighting the new ethanol plant, crediting the mighty team from Manning for pushing an improbable idea to the reality of a 40 million gallon ethanol plant and the innovative leaders in the ethanol industry with whom they partnered.

            The state of Iowa was just beginning to recognize the importance of ethanol.  Most of us could not have imagined the impact that ethanol has had on Iowa’s ag economy.  It is staggering.  Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production, with 47 percent (1.3 billion bushels) of the corn grown in Iowa going to create nearly 30 percent of all American ethanol.  There’s no doubt that the POET-Coon Rapids plant has been a local economic engine -- providing high paying jobs, increased local tax revenue, and value-added markets for area farmers.  Consider this, POET paid $67 million in 2016 to farmers for approximately 19.7 million bushel of corn. 

            Bill Howell, general manager of POET-Coon Rapids, was asked what is his biggest take-away from the past 15 years, and he responded, “One is the fact that we’ve become more energy independent as a nation, we’ve made more options available to the consumer, and we are putting out a product that is greatly reducing environmental impact.”    

            In a sense, the start-up of this ethanol plant gave Coon Rapids residents a front row seat to witness the growth of ethanol as a biofuel alternative to petroleum, just as the start-up of the Garst & Thomas Hybrid Seed Company in 1930 gave Coon Rapids residents the opportunity to watch as the seed corn industry matured over the next five decades.

            Here is the opportunity to tour an ethanol plant which is managed by the nation’s leading ethanol producer, POET.  Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers will be served for lunch and plant tours will be provided (closed toe shoes required).  Kids are welcome too!  It’s a busy weekend but take the opportunity to stop and say hello and show your support for one of this area’s largest agricultural interests.

            NOTE:  Nine of POET-Coon Rapids’ team members will be recognized for 15 years of employment.  They include Tommy Moore, Doug Wurzer, Ed Kautzky, Jerry Olesen, John Merit, Nancy Goodwin, Mike Smith, Kevin Sailer and Jon Asmus.  The first seven of these individuals live in Coon Rapids, while Kevin lives in Templeton and Jon lives in Audubon.

 

How a Manning Bnker Recruited an Ethanol Plant to the Area

The story about the Manning banker whose efforts paved the way for the nation’s largest ethanol producer to build a plant near Coon Rapids is a great one to retell on the eve of its 15th year of operation here.

            Howard Roe, who is now retired but at the time worked at the First National Bank in Manning, saw his first ethanol plant in Preston, MN, when he went there to visit his daughter.  It was late 1997 and the idea of adding value to Iowa’s corn crop by turning it into ethanol was intriguing to Roe.

            “Farmers were getting $1.88 per bushel for their corn, and we had unit trains in Manning shipping it out to other locations,” explained Roe.  “So we started looking for alternatives that would allow us to add the value ourselves.”

            Roe, who was president of the Manning Betterment Foundation, found out that the Preston ethanol plant was built by Broin and Associates, a family owned business located in Sioux Falls, SD, which had built its first ethanol plant in 1983.  Roe contacted Jeff Broin, the CEO for the company, and asked him to not only consider building a similar plant in Iowa — the most corn-rich state in the nation — but more specifically, to build it near Manning.

            Roe, however, had to convince his fellow Betterment Foundation members that an ethanol plant would be a good industry for the area.  He admitted that an earlier unsuccessful attempt to build an ethanol plant in Denison had soured many on the idea.

            “So when I brought this idea up initially to the Betterment Foundation, I wasn’t surprised they weren’t that excited about it.”  

            Roe wasn’t having much luck with Broin either.  At the time, Iowa did not offer economic incentives to encourage development of ethanol plants.  Minnesota’s 20-cent a gallon production credit was more enticing, and thus, Preston became the second of four Broin ethanol plants constructed in Minnesota between 1997 and 1999.  

            A turning point occurred when Roe finally convinced Jeff Broin to visit Manning in May 1999.  

            “Howard Roe deserves the credit for our entry into Iowa,” Jeff Broin recalled.  “He called me multiple times.”

            In retrospect, it was Roe’s great fortune to have forged a relationship with the Broin company.  Not only is Broin recognized as an industry leader in designing and building ethanol plants, but it had already pioneered an unique relationship with its partners to assure the ethanol plants would be well managed and able to stay abreast of technology improvements.  At the time, Broin was the second largest producer of ethanol in the USA.  Today, Broin — which now goes by the name POET — is the nation’s leading ethanol producer.  

            From that May 1999 meeting, Manning community leaders were very impressed by Broin’s shiny track record and the two sides decided to move forward together.  

            Roe asked his fellow board member Warren Puck for assistance in putting together a board of directors for the emerging group.  Puck was a third generation owner of the John Deere dealership in Manning and was familiar with the economic challenges of area farmers.  He said the great thing about ethanol is it adds value to the grain instead of letting others take advantage of that resource.

            “We ship that grain out of here.  Somebody takes it, adds value to it and gets the benefit.  We need to keep that here so that we can use that economic engine to keep people on the farm and keep our communities vibrant and healthy,” Puck said at the time the group was formed.

            The two Manning men recruited a group consisting primarily of farmers from a five-county area.  Soon they created the board of directors of what was to be known as Tall Corn Ethanol.  Puck served as president and Roe was treasurer.

            The board met every week during the year 2000, devoting its efforts to financial planning, raising capital and construction.  By the end of March 2001, the group, known as Tall Corn Ethanol (TCE) had attracted 440 investors and raised enough capital for 58 percent ownership in the $50 million plant.  They entered into a design-build contract with Broin to construct a 40 million gallon ethanol plant.

            About the only setback for the group was the plant’s ultimate location.  The board had hoped to locate the plant near Manning but the lack of an adequate water supply forced them to seek another location.  That site was found three miles east of Coon Rapids.

            At the ground breaking ceremony held in Coon Rapids on June 12, 2002, many elected officials and dignitaries attended, including Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who later served two terms as United States Secretary of Agriculture from 2009-2017. 

            The POET-Coon Rapids plant is overseen by a board of nine managing directors.  Five of them represent the 440 TCE investors, including Chairman Lynn Phillips of Manning, Rich Danner of Templeton, Randy Behrens of Manning, Scott Renze of Manning, and Lewis Scheuring of Defiance, plus Ben Puck of Manning, who is an alternate.

 

What's happened at POET-Coon Rapids during the last 15 years?

The Broin family built its first ethanol in Iowa back in 2002...in Coon Rapids, although their pace over the next few years was rapid as they built six more in the Hawkeye State.

                In 2007, all of the ethanol plants in which Broin had ownership were renamed POET.  Today, POET has a total of 27 ethanol plants located in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Minnesota and South Dakota, as well as Project Liberty, a cellulosic plant in Emmetsburg, IA.

                As a state, Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production, creating nearly 30% of all ethanol.  Iowa’s ethanol industry can produce more than 4 billion gallons annually, using more than 1.5 billion bushels of corn.  This comes from the 41 corn ethanol plants and two cellulosic plants operating across the state.

                As far as the POET-Coon Rapids plant is concerned, it was originally built with a 40 million gallon faceplate but 15 years and several tech upgrades later, it has expanded to a 50.4 million gallon faceplate.  It currently produces a diverse product mix, including ethanol, DDGS, corn oil and more.  

                “What we have been doing is optimizing the process for better consistency and reliability,” explained Ryan Filloon, plant manager of POET-Coon Rapids.  “We are able to run pretty comfortably at 58 million gallons without additional equipment and we’ve even been able to run at rates as high as 63 million gallons.  That’s all due to operational efficiencies and new technology.”

                “We’re always trying to find more ways to be efficient and optimize the process.  That’s not unique to Coon Rapids..it’s company-wide.  We’re always trying to be better.”

                Filloon has been with POET-Coon Rapids for the past three years.  Originally from Pocahontas, Filloon graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Environmental Science.  He and his wife, Jen, and their three boys, Eli, Cam and Jax, live in Carroll.

ONSITE E15 BLENDING

                Filloon noted that POET-Coon Rapids has recently earned certification to blend E15 onsite. 

                “The reason we did this is because there are some retailers that don’t have options for blending but they still want to offer their consumers the option,” Filloon explained.  “We can blend E15 out here and deliver it on our truck to the retailer who can then offer it to his customers.”

                The effort was also one of POET’s strategies to battle the ‘blend wall’, created by oil companies’ failure to invest in blender pumps, storage tanks and other infrastructure compatible with E15.

CORN OIL, ASPHALT REJUVENATION

                Distiller’s Dried Grains With Soluables (DDGS) is a byproduct of ethanol production and has been marketed by POET to dairy, beef, sheep, swine and poultry industries as a high protein, high energy feed supplement.  Last year, POET-Coon Rapids produced 145,000 tons of DDGS.  

                There are several other innovative products that POET has patented.

                Corn oil has been produced at the POET Coon Rapids facility for the past several years.  It can be used either as an animal feed additive or it can be used to make biodiesel.  

                More recently, POET has patented a process to make a product called JIVE, which is a more cost-effective, safer and healthier asphalt rejuvenator designed to revitalize, seal and protect asphalt pavings.  It’s scientifically designed to reverse the aging of asphalt and extend its life-cycle. 

                “That’s our newest innovation and we’re pretty excited about that,” Filloon added.

 

Courtesy of Coon Rapids Enterprise, 8/3/17.

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