Ethanol Still A Big Deal in Indiana

Hoosier Perspectives

Signs point toward strength in Indiana enterprises.

Published on: July 5, 2010

Coming home form a business trip, driving through northwest Indiana the other day, I stopped for gas at a BP gas station. As I was pumping fuel into my truck, I noticed the catchy display above the pump. It promoted E85 ethanol and showed a cornfield. It was promoting homegrown fuel.

I don't have an E85 vehicle, but I'm proud to burn 10% ethanol gas, and I still don't understand the holdup on EPA letting companies go to 15% ethanol. I would love to see that level in our gasoline. From what people have told me who have experimented with even higher levels of ethanol, it's difficult to pinpoint a legitimate reason for not approving 15% blends from a consumer standpoint.

Anyway, I heard talk last week that the debacle that was the Cloverdale ethanol plant was about to enter into a new chapter in its history. To bring you up to speed, economic development groups in Putnam County were very active in trying to bring a plant to the area. In fact, after a private individual announced plans to build a plant the group continued, hoping to build a second plant different from most others in Indiana. It would concentrate on the byproducts and sell up to 15 products, not just ethanol. However, it never got off the ground.

The Cloverdale plant ran into various problems, some of which I don't know the details, not long after it opened. The bottom line is that it has sat empty for months, not producing ethanol, not buying corn.

A local farmer told me that could change last week. The plant was going up for bids at a Sheriff's sale. There were rumors that POET, a solid company with other plants in Indiana, might be interested. Those rumors proved true.

POET, Sioux Falls, SD, issued an announcement last Wednesday that indeed, the company purchased the 90-million gallon per year ethanol plant near Cloverdale last week. That's POET's fourth plant in Indiana, and 27th in the U.S. It's production capacity will be 1.7 billion gallons of ethanol per year. I'd say that' a major player, like the Colts in football or Yankees in baseball.

The plant will be called POET Biorefining-Cloverdale. POET CEO Jeff Brown sees nothing but good things ahead for the plant and the community. Right off the bat, there will be 40 to 45 jobs, plus several secondary jobs that only exist when a plant is operating, not when it's setting there, locked up.

The plant is expected to open in about 9 months. Before then, POET plans several substantial upgrades to correct previous problems and bring the plant up to its standards.

Not everyone thinks ethanol plants are wonderful. I understand that. Whether Congress renews the ethanol subsidies, and whether of not that's fair to livestock producers, is a whole different issue. But it's exciting to see what might have turned into a dinosaur come alive again.

The people of Putnam County had a dream to add value to locally-produced corn. The dream has involved a few nightmares along the way, but it now it appears it may come true after all. That would be good for west-central Indiana farmers.