“This project allowed us to get that last couple of percent out of every bushel of corn we grind.” —Kevin Howes, Plant Manager, Homeland
Model predictive control system helps ethanol producer squeeze the last drop of efficiency out of its processes
When Homeland Energy Solutions LLC began building a new, 100-million-gallon ethanol processing facility in northeast Iowa in the fall of 2007, company leaders knew they wanted the plant to be the leader in low-cost biofuel production. A lofty goal considering that the ethanol business runs on margins about as thin as a strand of corn silk. Everybody wants to be the low-cost producer.
To maximize efficiencies in processes such as corn-to-ethanol conversion and also to lower their company’s carbon footprint, Homeland’s management team decided to make a model predictive control system part of the plant’s design from the ground up. The team selected Pavilion8 model predictive control (MPC) technology from Rockwell Automation.
This project was included in the initial capital project budget of the plant. Such budgeting is atypical, as most plants must run for several years or months before an MPC system is built.
The system was installed on the plant’s milling, slurry, and liquefaction processing units; batch fermentation systems; distillation and molecular sieve units; evaporators; multi-unit dryers; and thermal oxidizers.
The technology unifies the control of these process units using a dynamic MPC system to adjust and optimize the plant within the constraints of the facility.
Homeland Energy was able to increase asset utilization and energy efficiency. The company increased production by more than 20%, reduced natural gas energy usage by 1.8% and electrical energy usage by 2.5%, and increased overall corn-to-ethanol yield by 1.1%.
Homeland reached a return on investment greater than 100% in one year, with the value of benefits reaching $4 million a year.
The project was recognized with a 2011 PM100 Award in the Operational Excellence category.
““The project was instrumental for us to be able to achieve the results we did from both a production capacity and efficiency standpoint,” says Homeland plant manager Kevin Howes.
“In today’s ethanol market, margins can and do become very tight, and this project allowed us to get that last couple of percent out of every bushel of corn we grind. It is truly an honor for a plant of our size to be recognized by this distinguished group of judges.”