LEIPSIC — A biorefinery in Leipsic is converting grain into fuel, a project which the plant’s manager says is sustaining Ohio’s grain farmers.
Ken Miceli, general manager at Poet Biorefinery in Leipsic, estimated about 40 percent of corn grown in Ohio is now purchased by biofuel refineries such as Poet.
“Every gallon of fuel that you fill up right now usually has up to 10 percent of biofuel in it … The biofuel that’s in your vehicle right now, it comes from grain grown in Ohio,” Miceli said. “It’s a locally produced fuel. It supports the agricultural sector, which is the backbone of this country.”
Ethanol is found in regular gasoline and alternative fuels such as E85 — 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline — as well as E15. While only flex-fuel vehicles can run on E85, Miceli said most vehicles manufactured after 2001 can use E15 or Unleaded 88 “without any issues.”
How does it work?
“We take the whole kernel, grind it into a flour, and then we add enzymes which take the starch and break that into simple sugars,” Miceli said. “Those simple sugars are converted into biofuel.”
Once the biofuel is made, Miceli said the remaining nutrients are used to produce animal feed.
“Biofuel has less greenhouse gas emissions, burns cleaner than gasoline does,” Miceli said. “It doesn’t release the toxins in the air … It’s considered carbon neutral because it takes the carbon dioxide out of the ground as the corn grows, and as it combusts you release the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.”
Poet opened its Leipsic refinery in January 2008. The plant now employs 45 full-time employees, including chemical operators, accountants and others, according to Miceli. Many employees work 12-hour shifts, rotating between days and nights every eight weeks.
A chemical operator, for example, is responsible for making sure quality control measures and state and federal regulations are met.
“They come in and look at the process to define current status, where are we at right now. They take samples for quality assurance. Then we’ll make changes based off their sampling,” Miceli explained. “When it comes to the business here, they really are the soul of the plant. They maintain and monitor the process. If it wasn’t for them, the plant wouldn’t be capable of performing as well as it does. They’re really the front line leaders when it comes to the business.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.