In a society where nearly everything we touch is consumed and disposed of seemingly in a blink of an eye, it’s refreshing to hear of someone whose vision includes breathing new life and purpose into a century-old landmark.
It’s even more exciting when that vision includes helping ease two of today’s most pressing needs: fuel and food.
In an idyllic rural setting outside of Jefferson, WI, not far from Interstate 94 and situated between Madison and Milwaukee, the aptly named Renew Energy, has constructed a 130-million gallon/year, ethanol plant on the site of a former Cargill malting facility.
So, in a unique twist of fate, the remodeling of a facility originally dedicated to keeping breweries running for 100+ years, in favor of creating beer for ethanol production, makes perfect sense. Only now, it’s our nation’s thirst for fuel that’s being quenched.
“Obviously we were extremely fortunate to have a situation where we could capture so much value up front with the existing facility,” says Joe Thorner, vice-president and general manager, Operations for Renew Energy. “The storage and utility (electricity, natural gas and water), infrastructure assets were essentially in place for us, which helped execute our vision for the project.”
The Oshkosh, WI-based Renew Energy had a specific plan in mind when looking for a site for what would become Wisconsin’s largest ethanol plant. This plan is based on a three-pronged approach focused on ways to capture value from the existing infrastructure, generate efficiencies and deliver benefits downstream.
This focus is representative of the three tenets of Renew Energy’s planned approach are the elements of environmental benefit, facility renewal/efficiency and high-value technology.
Although Thorner knew the facility well — he was part of the management team when Cargill operated the malting facility — it was understood that a key success element critical in making the transition from malting to manufacturing ethanol and feed products was minimizing the project’s environment footprint.
“For the size and scale of the operation envisioned we needed to certainly maximize our opportunities to create efficiencies wherever possible,” says Thorner. “All systems were reviewed and evaluated to uncover ways to reclaim and reuse essential resources.”
Through this process, Renew was able to reduce water usage by creating systems to recapture and re-condensate water. They reuse the hot, condensed water from the evaporators to help run the corn mashing system, thus reducing their thermal usage demand and their overall electric needs.
Additionally, water evaporated in the distrillation process is condensed and reused in the process as hot process water.
Currently, this system of recapture and reuse accounts for approximately 95% of their process water needs being met with reclaimed water.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO JEFFERSON
The second of the three prongs looked at utilizing the existing resources to capture value and improve efficiencies throughout the chain of production. One major asset the project had going for it from the get-go, was its ideal location.
“Getting our raw material in and our Renew Meal ™ product out the door on the back end, in a smooth, timely fashion is paramount to our success,” says Scott Busch, co-product merchandising and marketing manager, Renew Energy. “Logistically speaking, the Jefferson location puts us in a position to meet our expectations and those of our customers.”
A quick glance at a map and the logistical advantages Busch refers to almost leap off the page. Jefferson is sandwiched between Interstate 94 to the north and Interstate 90 a little more than 30 minutes to the south. It’s also dissected by a State Highway 26 which runs north/south, and the east/west running U.S. Highway 18. These well-traveled corridors make it easy for inbound and outbound deliveries from the plant.