Ethanol Industry’s impact on Local Economy, Carbon Capturing Could Create New Revenue Source

by Brittany Hardaway

LENA — The farming economy is revving up ethanol-fueled engines.

We’re getting an inside look into the ethanol industry at Adkins Energy in Lena, Illinois.
Plant producers explain how a grain of corn is fueling the U.S. economy.
“We take corn in from local farmers, we end up processing it, we grind it, we cook it, we ferment it and we produce ethanol, ddg wet cake, and bio diesel from that,” Assistant General Manager for Adkins Energy, Jason Townsend said.

Townsend has been working in the ethanol industry for more than two decades. He explained how to go from corn kernels to the gas you’re getting at the pump. “All of our corn comes in by truck in the local market, most of it within a 20 to 30 mile radius of Adkins because of the amount of corn growing in this area and in this county in northwest Illinois,” Townsend said.

Once local farmers bring the corn in, everything is processed on site. “These large stainless steel tanks are fermentation vessels, each one of those tanks is 680,000 gallons it takes us about 16hrs to fill it and then we add the yeast and enzymes to break down the starch, the sugar into simple sugars and let the yeast consume it and then they produce the ethanol,” Townsend said.

It’s not just ethanol; corn is supplying byproducts to keep local communities across the Stateline growing. “All of our wet cakes stays local as well, local cattle and dairy producers,” Townsend said.

With nearly 60 million gallons of ethanol produced per year, there’s also 3 million gallons of biodiesel coming from the plant as well. “The corn oil this is what we pull out the ethanol plant down there and then we send it up here and turn into biodiesel through an enzymatic process,” Townsend said.

After the distillation process, which purifies the corn oil, it creates a clean biodiesel ready to hit the fuel market. “That gets loaded out into trucks from here and blended into local diesel sales,” Townsend said.

The future of ethanol plants is bright with producers now banking on carbon capturing to serve as a rebirth for the industry. “Our goal is to take the CO2, convert it to green methanol we’ll also produce oxygen so we’ll diversify our product line,” CEO & General Manager of Adkins Energy, Bill Howell said.

Howell said the plant should make about 40 million gallons of methanol from CO2 pipelines. “It will put us in a position where we have no discharge we’ll consume everything coming from that kernel of corn,” Howell said.

As the plant continues to transform and look ahead to the future, their hoping to decrease its carbon footprint with the production of green methanol, an essential fuel for the shipping industry. “It cleans up the environment, you’re taking CO2 carbon dioxide out the environment and you’re making a product out of it so it’s very environmentally friendly,” Howell said.

They embrace change while also supporting the Stateline farmers who grow the food and fuel we need to keep going. “The hope is we can make something out of CO2 and add even more value to the farm land, to the community and the market,” Howell said.

“The original concept for Adkins, for the ethanol plant in general, is to be able to add value back to the bushel of corn for the farmers, and it has definitely done that,” Townsend said.

Adkins Energy has been around since 2002.

The plant is one of the few owned by a local co-op, Pearl City Elevator.

*Originally published on WREX.com.