Lincolnway Energy converts to gas
By JOLENE STEVENS
NEVADA – Iowa’s 43 ethanol plants produced a record 3.9 billion gallons of ethanol in 2014, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, up from 3.7 billion gallons the previous three years.
The most recent report indicates Iowa remains the nation’s No. 1 ethanol-producing state and accounts for roughly 27 percent of national ethanol production.
A “small amount of the production,” the report said, “came from cellulosic feedstocks, i.e. corn stover and corn kernel fiber. It would seem likely that these figures are likely to increase as new bio-mass plants are completed and come on line.”
Ethanol plants, like Dupont’s Lincolnway Energy, in Nevada, are turning to natural gas rather than coal to gain efficiencies in their facilities.
Dave Sommerlot, plant manager for Lincolnway Energy, said the plant’s new regenerative thermal oxidizer and natural gas boiler are supplied through a new gas line from Story City competed in November.
“This has dramatically changed how the plant operates,” Sommerlot said, noting fall production showed good ethanol production, quality and yields.
Sommerlot said the plant was previously powered by a coal-fired burner. DuPont started discussions several years ago with Alliant Energy about bringing natural gas to both its corn-based and cellulosic ethanol plants.
Later, discussions included Iowa State University which would share the line. The start up of the natural gas pipe as of Nov. 1, 2014, with boiler start up Nov. 3, 2014, both went smoothly, Sommerlot said.
“Few plants were built like ours utilizing coal as the boiler fuel source,” he said. “The most common by far were built utilizing natural gas as their fuel of choice.
“The new gas boiler installation now puts us on an even playing field with our competition and sister plants as result of cheaper natural gas costs compared to coal cost and provides an improved energy efficiency with the natural gas boiler compared to the coal combustor.
“With our industry always looking for ways to control or reduce operating costs, the conversion to natural gas was seen as a viable choice.”
He pointed to other regional ethanol plants making similar change overs in recent years, including those at Goldfield and Heron Lake, Minnesota.
Alliant’s role was construction and managing the line. That project became feasible with three major customers – ISU and two Dupont ethanol plants – sharing the pipeline.
Iowa State University’s Jeff Witt, director of utility services, said ISU’s participation started when its gas consultant, U.S. Energy Service, opened talks with Alliant about the need to increase natural gas pipeline capacity into Ames.
“It quickly became apparent that there was some synergy in combining the natural gas needs for Iowa State, Lincolnway Energy and Dupont,” said Witt. He added that while the university does not work with other ethanol plants, it does collaborate with the city of Ames as an electric supplier.
Witt said he sees the natural gas change over is an environmental one, especially since regulatory requirements for coal “becoming more and more stringent, making natural gas a more attractive option for the plants.”
“In our case, the conversion of the plant to gas is primarily for environment regulatory reasons and to replace aging equipment,” Witt said. “While natural gas has been competitive with coal, this had not historically been the case and may not be the case in the future as more plants convert to natural gas.
“The natural gas supply in the U.S. is increasing which is driving prices down while at the same time because of the lower pricing more and more facilities are converting to natural gas driving up demand.
“The natural gas pipeline infrastructure must be expanded to meet this increasing demand, which will increase costs. The whole natural gas market is changing and it is tough to predict where it will end up.”
Regarding Dupont’s use of natural gas for its cellulosic ethanol facility currently under construction, Keith Gibson, plant manager, said Dupont had not been involved with the Lincolnway plan during its conversion to natural gas, but the fuel is needed for the boiler.
Commenting on construction on the new bio-refinery, Jan Koninckx, Dupont’s global business director for advanced biofuels, said continued progress is being made on the future plant with expected mechanical completion in the first quarter of 2014.
“This will be followed by several months’ commission period as we assure the safety, quality and performance to meet our rigorous standards,” Koninckx said.
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