Al Viaene, Fort Dodge FACILITY manager for Cargill, and Nicole Reichert, external communications for Cargill corn milling, discuss plant issues and features Monday afternoon after announcing the plant has started initial startup procedures for production of ethanol and four additional products.
Cargill announced Monday that it has begun operating its corn wet mill plant in Fort Dodge.
Cargill purchased the idled facility from Tate & Lyle in 2011.
"We are excited to be operational in Fort Dodge," said Al Viaene, Fort Dodge facility manager for Cargill Corn Milling North America. "When full production capacity is reached, the plant will consume 150,000 bushels of corn a day and turn out five products including dextrose, ethanol and SweetBran feed for cattle."
Viaene said the plant loaded its first corn in the steep house on Oct. 23 and ground its first corn on Oct. 27. In wet milling, the grain is soaked or "steeped" in water and diluted acid for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. This steeping facilitates the separation of the grain into its many component parts.
Viaene said the entire plant is not fully productive as yet, but each stage is being tested with small amounts of corn to determine if there are any issues or equipment adjustments.
"Through a plant this size and complexity," Viaene said, "there are startup issues you tend to have. We have great design engineers, things don't always work in the real world.
"But I think overall it's going relatively well."
He said the fermentation and distillation systems in late November and December, and, if all is good, full production could start in December.
The facility is fully staffed with 150 employees, Viaene said, including 134 employees hired within the region.
In addition there are fewer than 200 contracted employees remaining doing finishing and insulating work.
"As a subcontractor that has worked out there," said Matt Bemrich, Fort Dodge mayor and private contractor, "I can say that they've been a real good company to work for.
"They're very involved in the safety aspect of how their contractors operate on their facility, which is an important part of our company's philosophy as well.
"Getting to work with a company like Cargill has been a benefit to us as a local company."
The company will also have embedded contractors for security, corn grading, maintenance services and predictive maintenance technology - thermography, vibration and oil analyses - "that's not in our core competency," Viaene said, "but we work with companies that do it very well.
"They will be here every day as we do, they'll just have a different shirt on with a different logo."
Cargill will be producing five different ingredients from each corn kernel. These are:
Viaene said Cargill will source all its corn locally from within a 90-mile radius. Corn could be railed in, he said, but there are no off-loading capabilities from rail cars.
"Our plans are all truck traffic corn," he said, "from growers and end suppliers."
Viaene said the plant has had as many as 60 to 80 other Cargill sites to assist the Fort Dodge employees in the startup process.
He said said Iowa Central Community College has been helpful in providing training space for Cargill employees.
The plant is also providing advisory team members to assist Iowa Central in curriculum for training new employees in the biorefining industry.
"We have," Viaene said, "a culture established around safety and high-performance.
"It's been amazing to me. (The work force) has met my expectations in the long-term in a high-performance work team environment.
"The employees that have been coming in from the surrounding area have great behaviors and technical competencies."
The corn wet mill ethanol plant will provide the base load corn grind for the campus, and will also support additional business growth in the coming years, said Nicole Reichert, external communications manager for Cargill corn milling, based out of Minneapolis.
That growth includes CJ Bio America, an over-the-fence business partner that will use Cargill's dextrose for animal feed processing.
"We're continuing to explore other business opportunities."
She said the Fort Dodge plant is looking to copy the success Cargill has in similar plants in Eddyville and Blair, Neb.
When completed, Fort Dodge will be a world class biorefinery campus that will produce ethanol and other bio-based products.
"This investment demonstrates Cargill's continued commitment to Iowa agriculture," said Gov. Terry Branstad. "The Fort Dodge facility will create over 100 jobs in Webster County and the addition of CJ Bio America will lead to further job growth in Fort Dodge."
Viaene said there are 450 acres in the industrial ag park,which provides room for growth.
He said he's confident that being in the heart of the Corn Belt, with available electricity, water and rail infrastructure of CN, formerly Canadian National Railway, and Union Pacific.
"We can be successful going forward," Viaene said.
Cargill officials met earlier Monday with Bemrich and members of the City Council.
"As mayor," Bemrich said, "I definitely hope we have the opportunity to work with them to make sure we provide the best opportunity possible for Cargill and any co-located companies, to be successful in making Fort Dodge the next Blair or Eddyville."
Bemrich compared Monday's announcement as the start of a long-term development process..
"We're just starting the marathon of what's going to happen over the next number of years," he said. "The starting gun is the startup of the Cargill facility, and we'll see over the development of their facility and the co-located facilities, our success continue to go.
"It's a neat day, it's like the starting pistol going off today."
Messenger staff writer Joe Sutter contributed to this report.