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Dunn County approves CO2 plant at ethanol plant

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved a special exception for Air Products/EPCO Carbon Dioxide Products Inc. to operate a carbon dioxide manufacturing plant at the Big Rivers Resources ethanol plant between Wheeler and Boyceville.

The Board of Adjustment held a public hearing on the application December 19.

Joe Lameck of Allentown, Pennsylvania, spoke on behalf of EPCO and said the Boyceville CO2 plant would be one of 13 plants the company operates, mostly in the Midwest.

Instead of building a new plant at Big Rivers, EPCO will be moving an existing plant from Nebraska, he said.

The plant in Nebraska is supplied with CO2 from an ammonia manufacturing operation, Lameck said.

EPCO has operated the Nebraska plant for the past 25 years. The contract is ending, and by mutual agreement of both companies, EPCO is moving the operation, he said.

The CO2 plant will be up and running by April, Lameck said.

Paul Young, the project engineer, said that the process will capture carbon dioxide that the ethanol plant would normally vent into the atmosphere.

The wastewater that remains after the CO2 is removed will be piped back to Big Rivers, and the water will be treated in the ethanol plant’s normal wastewater treatment process, he said.

Phil Steans, BOA member, wondered if the operation to capture the CO2 would be removing a substance from the atmosphere that could contribute to global warming.

Generally speaking, the carbon dioxide that is vented by the ethanol plant is equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide that the corn processed at the ethanol plant would use to grow during the growing season, said Brian Kieffer of Big River Resources.

The process to capture the CO2 will remove about two-thirds of what is currently being given off by the ethanol plant, he said.

Juliet Fox, chair of the Board of Adjustment, wondered what kind of waste would be going back to the ethanol plant after the carbon dioxide is removed.

“It’s all the same thing we would have anyway, whether or the not the carbon dioxide was removed,” Kieffer said.

Fox also was concerned about additional truck traffic.

The carbon dioxide plant will generate about 12 or 13 80,000-pound semi loads per day of CO2, Lameck said.

The majority of the loads will be going to the Jenny-O Turkey Store in Barron. EPCO has signed a ten-year contract with Big Rivers, he said.

EPCO currently supplies Jenny-O with CO2, but the product now is shipped from Minnesota, and the Boyceville plant will shorten the trip to only about 30 miles, Lameck said.

BOA members asked how many people would be employed at the carbon dioxide plant.

The plant will employ two people as plant managers. The CO2 plant will operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week, but much of the process is automated, Lameck said.

The truck drivers are company employees. EPCO does not contract with other trucking companies, he said.

Steans wondered about the company’s safety record for trucking accidents.

Lameck said he has been in charge of the carbon dioxide operation for six months, and in that time, the company has had two trucking incidents.

The first one happened out in Ohio when a 16-year-old girl was driving to school and texting at the same time. The driver of CO2 truck took to the ditch and ended up in someone’s front yard to avoid hitting the 16-year-old driver, he said.

In the second incident, the truck was waiting for a stop light at an intersection. When the driver pulled forward, the trailer disconnected from the tractor, but no damage was done either to the trailer or other vehicles, Lameck said.

Tom Walsh, BOA member, asked how Jenny-O uses the carbon dioxide.

CO2 is used throughout the manufacturing process. At the start of the process, it is used to asphyxiate the turkeys. It also is used to cool the meat grinders, in the food freezers to quick-freeze the products and in packaging, Lameck said.

Fox wondered if EPCO were planning to be active in the community.

The company requires employees to put in at least one day per year as a “day of caring.” Activities cover a wide variety of areas, such as working in homeless shelters, cleaning up parks and painting, he said.

The company will reach out to the community to find out where help is needed, Lameck said.

BOA members wondered how the 13 carbon dioxide trucks per day compared to the number of trucks coming into the ethanol plant.

During harvest, 200 trucks per day or more can haul corn into the ethanol plant. On a normal day, usually between 50 and 100 trucks ship to the plant, Kieffer said.

The Dunn County Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved the special exception to operate a carbon dioxide plant at the Big Rivers Resources plant.

The motion included an amendment to set a condition for a maximum of 13 trucks per day of carbon dioxide.

If EPCO wants to increase the number of CO2 trucks, the company will have make another application to the Board of Adjustment.