By LINDA WOODLAND
FOR THE COURIER
FOSTORIA — White plumes have been billowing above Fostoria’s eastern skyline for 10 years now.
And each puff of the white vapor is a testament to the success POET Biorefining has found there.
In the past decade, more than 24 billion bushels of corn have been processed to produce more than 68 billion gallons of ethanol at the edge of Fostoria’s city limits.
POET Biorefining, 2111 Sandusky St., began operations in Fostoria on Sept. 30, 2008. At the time, it was reported the $130 million ethanol production facility would annually consume approximately 24 million bushels of locally-grown corn to produce 68 million gallons of ethanol each year.
Today, those numbers have increased to about 28 million bushels of locally-grown corn to produce about 85 million gallons of ethanol annually, according to Arthur Thomas, general manager of the Fostoria plant for six of those 10 years.
“If you look at the 10 years, we’ve increased things by 33 to 34 percent,” Thomas said, adding that he sees increases in production continuing.
“The same methodology is being used today, but with that being said, there have been hundreds if not thousands of improvements that have gone into the process to enhance our operation,” he said, contributing to the increases in production.
To mark the 10-year milestone, POET has kept the celebration pretty low-key.
“We had a producers’ event where we celebrated our producers,” he said. Jackets, T-shirts and coffee mugs were also distributed to the POET team that includes the 46 employees at the Fostoria plant. Government officials were also invited to the plant, including Fostoria Mayor Eric Keckler and the Seneca County commissioners.
With an annual payroll of approximately $2 million, POET enhances the local economy with improved corn prices, value-added markets for farmers, good-paying jobs and increased local tax revenue.
Thomas said approximately 110 trucks bring locally-grown corn to the plant on a daily basis.
“Within a 35-mile radius of the plant, we purchase 100 percent of our corn,” Thomas said, explaining that number 2 yellow corn is a commodity on the Chicago Board of Trade and is currently priced somewhere around $3.50 to $3.60 a bushel.
“Well, just take and multiply that by 28 million. So you’re coming up with in excess of $100 million in corn purchasing that we do. And when you think about it, that all gets pumped into the local economy. I’m just talking rough numbers.”
And POET uses more than locally-grown corn to keep the plant running. Thomas said maintenance and upgrades at the facility are done locally, as well.
“There’s a lot of impact we have on the local community,” he said.
There are POET plants in Leipsic and Marion that are using local corn and resources in those communities. “So when you start to look at the POET plants and what they do for the local community, it’s pretty impressive,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he sees continued improvements ahead for POET in Fostoria.
“We look at optimizing our production. We look to increase efficiencies. It’s all of those things that we bring into play to improve our position,” he said. “There’s significant efforts in eliminating our bottlenecks and improving our operating efficiency.”
From an environmental standpoint, everything coming into the biorefinery gets turned around, processed and sent back out.
“We bring corn in, we process it and as we process it we generate ethanol, dried distiller grains, we extract corn oil, and then we also recover CO2 out of it,” he said. “Everything that comes in here goes out a finished product. There’s no waste that goes out of this plant.”
But what about all the white exhaust pouring out of the plant?
“People drive by and they see that vapor going up into the air and there’s no emissions in that. We have a lot of things in place to address emissions. But they look at that and say, ‘Well, that’s the plant that makes smoke.’ We don’t make smoke, that’s just water vapor,” he explained.
“When it’s coming out of the stack like that, that means we are up and running.”