When you want to learn about ethanol, you go to an industry veteran and I did just that when I spoke with Patriot Renewable Fuels Plant Manager Dave Gerhart who began his career in the early 80s at is what is now known as Nebraska-based Chief Ethanol Fuels. At the time, they were the largest dry mill ethanol plant in the United States. Back then corn was less than $2 a bushel so the ethanol plant was something the local community supported to help the local farmer.
From there, Gerhart changed gears slightly and joined the ICM team where he worked with them on their first 5 design and build ethanol plants. This was in the early 2000s before the major industry boom. Next he began the plant manager at Kaapa Ethanol and today he has brought his 30 years of experience to Patriot to help them grow.
One of Gerhart’s areas of expertise is his ability to identify things in the plant that can be modified to help improve efficiency – a key factor in increasing profitability. I asked him for those that are newbies to the industry, some areas plant managers can’t look at to increase efficiency.
“One you would look at your energy balance and see where you could actually put variable frequency drives rather than an automatic control valve. So that would reduce electricity,” explained Gerhart. “If you can reduce water usage, this helps you out in the energy balance as well. There is different trains of thoughts on fermentation and what you can do there. Sometimes people take the path of least resistance and in doing so they short circuit the energy efficiency they can actually get out of there plant.”
I asked Gerhart what he would really like consumers to know about biofuels. “Hopefully they all realize that ethanol is probably the cleanest thing they can put into your gas tank,” said Gerhart. “Gasoline is not. Alcohol is very safe. It’s homegrown. It’s renewable. It’s not something that we have to go foreign to get.”
I also asked him why consumers needed to care about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFs). They need to care because ethanol has such an impact on middle America,” said Gerhart. “We’ve done so much to build up the farm incomes and the trucking industry and the fuel distribution. So every plant no matter where it’s at has an economic impact, at a minimum of 70 miles around it.”
Gerhart added, “This needs to stay.”
Listen to my interview with Dave Gerhart here: Tips from Patriot's Dave Gerhart on Improving Efficiency
Check out the Patriot Renewable Fuels photo album.