POET celebrates 10th anniversary
By David Fenker | The Paper of Wabash County
Since opening in 2008, POET Biorefining's North Manchester plant has produced 687 million gallons of ethanol.
Located on County Road 800 North just east of State Road 13, the facility celebrated its 10th anniversary Saturday, Sept. 22, with cake, ice cream, speeches and tours.
POET's plume of steam can be seen for miles around each day, as the facility runs 24/7 to convert corn into ethanol, corn oil and DDGs, a high-protein animal feed product.
“The community really embraced POET when we came to town, and so we have all of you to thank for that attitude for this new business,” General Manager Steve Pittman said during a brief program. “The other thing it takes is farmers. If we didn’t have any corn, we wouldn’t have a thing to do. We depend on our local farmers here to supply us the grain.
“We grind about 24-26 million bushels of that stuff a year, and we’re looking to make even more next year. We really appreciate all your efforts, because we wouldn’t have anything to do without having the good corn supply that we have in this area.”
The plant opened Sept. 11, 2008, at a cost of about $160 million. Since then, POET has invested $25 million in facilities upgrades, including two additional fermentation tanks and a steam-powered generator.
“We’re saving 1/3 on our cost of our electricity,” Pittman said.
Pittman called POET “a green operation,” noting that the plant produces no waste – all by-products are either recycled into the plant’s various processes, or sold as products.
A crowd of POET family and friends, as well as nonaffiliated community members, gathered under a tent for the anniversary celebration. Before and after the meal and program, a tractor hauled guests to and from the plant for guided tours, stopping to show where corn is dropped off along the way.
Once inside, guests were led into the control room, where two POET technicians monitored the plant while tour guides explained the various stages the corn goes through in ethanol production, complete with samples.
After the control room, tour participants donned hard hats and turned in their cell phones for a brief walk through the plant before returning via tractor to the tent.
Indiana’s 2nd District Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) also made an appearance during the program via a pre-recorded video, congratulating POET on 10 years in North Manchester.
“Over the past decade, POET has contributed to our local economy and strengthened our workforce,” she said. “POET’s outstanding growth and commitment to excellence has helped our country reduce its reliance on foreign energy, and provide an alternative to fossil fuel that is cleaner and affordable. You’re production and innovation have helped move our state forward in the renewable energy industry.
“On behalf of 2nd District Hoosiers, I’m grateful for the great job and unmatched inspiration POET Biorefining provides our community.”
Plant Manager David Pyle, who started at the facility in 2008, also spoke.
“He’s a great asset to this plant, and I’m proud to have him working with us at this facility,” Pittman said of Pyle. “It’s that tenacity, that passion, that devotion; that willingness to continue to persevere on when we have problems, and that ever-non-ending thirst for knowledge is what I think drives David and the rest of this facility. What he does for this plant really helps drive the character of everybody that works here.”
After recognizing several POET employees who have been with the company’s North Manchester plant since 2008, Pyle provided various statistics about the plant.
“We sometimes call ourselves glorified moonshiners,” he said, “… but we do have a permit to do this legally.”
He later noted that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms requires that gasoline make up 2 percent of the shipped ethanol product, making it unfit for human consumption.
The plant has ground about 240 million bushels of corn since 2008, receiving about 100 truckloads (80 million bushels) per day currently.
POET ships out ethanol 24/7, with an average of 30 truckloads (240,000 gallons) per day.
“For the sake of 10 years, we’ve produced 687 million gallons of ethanol so far,” Pyle said.
The facility also produces 600 tons of DDGs, it's high-protein animal feed product, each day. That comes out to four rail cars and eight trucks per day, according to Pyle.
Corn oil joined POET's list of products in 2012, and the plant currently ships out two truckloads of it per day. Pyle said that
POET has shipped 75,000 tons of corn oil since adding the system in June 2012.
The steam turbine generator produces 72,000 kilowatts per day – meaning it's produced 28 million kilowatts since coming online in 2017.
“That’s enough energy to power … the houses in the town of North Manchester,” Pyle said.
Since opening, the plant has added two fermentation tanks and increased efficiency, bringing yearly ethanol production from 60 million in 2008 to 80 million gallons currently.
“We’re currently filling Ferm. No. 1, which is batch 5,532,” Pyle said, “so that’s 5,532 batches since 2008.”
The lab, he said, has completed 900,000 lab analyses since opening.
“I was fortunate to be able to start here as a green engineer out of college back in 2008,” Pyle said while describing his interview experience. “Somehow, I convinced [the plant manager] – I don’t know what I said, but the rest has been a blur.”
Pyle stepped into the plant manager position in January 2013.
“It’s just been a great ride, a great company to work for,” he said.