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Going Green at Corn Plus

By Staff | Jun 28, 2008

Corn Plus in Winnebago.

Corn-based ethanol is widely accepted as a positive stepping stone to a greener planet.

But what about the companies who produce it? Shouldn’t they be as ‘green’ as their product?

For the past three years, the efforts of Winnebago’s Corn Plus have led them in the right direction; and today they’re actually getting paid for being environmentally sound, thanks to carbon credits.

A main goal of the local ethanol producer has always been to become self-sufficient on the energy front, says the plant’s general manager Keith Kor. Projects like the bio-mass fluidized bed reactor, pelletized corn syrup ash and wind turbines have put Corn Plus heads above other ethanol plants.

The company’s current venture is to voluntarily join the Chicago Climate Exchange in October; making the local ethanol plant the first in the world to sell carbon credits through the company.

‘Carbon credits’ are defined as ‘a financial instrument to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the sale of credits, sometimes called offsets, to mitigate carbon gas emissions.’

Basically, says Kor, it breaks down like this: Corn Plus receives 40,000 carbon credits a year thanks to the carbon-reducing efforts they have in place. Let’s say ‘Company B’ (a fictional organization) normally produces 15 tons of carbon a year, but in 2008 will produce 17 ton. Because alternative plans are too expensive to implement for a reduction, ‘Company B’ could instead purchase two carbon credits, allowing them to release the two tons of excess carbon.

Corn Plus would then get the ‘going rate’ for the credits.

The local ethanol plant’s first credits were sold for an average of $5.92 per credit.

Currently however, the plant is ‘banking’ or holding onto the credits hoping they will rise in price — which Kor says most likely will happen, adding that in Europe, credits sell for as much as $25.

To join the Chicago Climate Exchange, Corn Plus was audited by the exchange, verifying each of the plants three energy saving measures.

Auditors looked at the fluidized bed reactor, a device built in 2005 using heat, air and corn syrup — a plant byproduct — to create it’s own energy (cutting the plants natural gas use by more than 50 percent); the pelletizing corn syrup ash — a byproduct of the fluidized bed reactor high in phosphorus, calcium and potassium sold as fertilizer (a green bonus because natural gas is an important input for other fertilizers); and the plant’s wind turbines, which reduce the plants electricity use by about 40 percent.