Despite extremely difficult times in the renewable fuels industry, a group of Iowa plants recently partnered to provide the base ingredients for hand sanitizer to the state of Iowa at no charge.
“We’re so grateful to our friends in the renewable fuels industry,” Cord Overton, communications manager for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said in March. “Thanks to our partnership, we’ve produced thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer.”
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, called the hand sanitizer project a rare bright spot in an otherwise devastating time for the biofuels industry.
He estimates since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., demand for ethanol, and subsequently production of the fuel, has been cut by at least half.
“This is as bad as I’ve seen it in 20 plus years working in this industry,” Shaw said.
Two primary ingredients for hand sanitizer are
ethanol and glycerin. Glycerin is a byproduct of the biodiesel making process. With both in ample supply, plants across Iowa agreed to send these materials to the state for processing into sanitizer.
The Iowa Department of Corrections and Iowa Prison Industries, a program that offers job training, work and pay to inmates in state prison, were able to produce the finished product sent to a variety of state-run facilities.
A group effort
Loads of ethanol and glycerin came from a variety of biofuel producers, including Absolute Energy in St. Ansgar, Western Iowa Energy in Wall Lake, Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in Council Bluffs and Green Plains Inc., which has plants in Shenandoah and Superior as well as other states.
“In the midst of the economic devastation, it was pretty cool to see these plants step up and help out,” Shaw said. “Some of the plants that helped were in the process of shutting down but stayed open to help their neighbors. This is reflective of the agricultural community in general.”
“To help curb the spread of COVID-19, we are pleased to provide our local communities with a product that is essential in the production of hand sanitizer,” said Todd Becker, president and chief executive officer of Green Plains Inc., in a news release.
Hard times for biofuel
With much of the country under some form of a shelter-in-place order, gasoline and ethanol sales plummeted. Ethanol usage also cratered while stockpiles built up in storage.
In addition to the donations to the state, Shaw said some Iowa ethanol plants have sold their product to private companies producing sanitizer for commercial sales.
Also hurting farmers
Shaw also was quick to point out the hardships don't end with ethanol and biodiesel plants.