MASON CITY — What began 10 years ago with simple educational discussions has transformed into a North Iowa plant that produces nearly 120 million gallons of ethanol a year.
The idea for Golden Grain Energy, which was formally incorporated March 18, 2002, came from a series of meetings where participants talked about the ethanol industry, the production process, the future of renewable fuels and the use of dried distillers grains, said Walt Wendland, the company’s president and CEO.
“At the conclusion of those meetings we decided whether it was feasible to have a company,” he said.
Today that company has 47 employees at its Mason City plant, which is owned by farmers and investors from north-central and northeast Iowa.
Groundbreaking for the plant was in October 2003, with production beginning just 14 months later. Since that time, the plant has purchased more than 234 million bushels of corn — averaging more than 39 million bushels annually — from farmers and elevators in north-central Iowa and south-central Minnesota.
The plant grew from its original 40 million gallon-per-year production capacity to the current level with an expansion completed in June 2007. The ability to extract corn oil from ethanol production was added in March 2009.
Golden Grain is in the process of building another CO2 scrubber and fermenter, which will further increase the plant’s capacity and efficiency, according to Wendland.
He said it will “help get us a little bit more out of the corn,” which is an advantage with the price of corn on the rise.
Among the impacts Golden Grain has had on the local economy since its formation are:
• 650 million gallons of ethanol produced, the equivalent of nearly 15.5 million barrels of oil.
• $20.6 million paid in wages and benefits, with an average of $2.6 million annually.
• $1 billion in corn purchased, an average of $187 million annually.
• $560 million in local, non-corn vendor payments, an average of $62.2 million annually.
• $65.1 million distributed to members, an average of $8.1 million annually.
Golden Grain management staff and board members serve on the boards of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the national Renewable Fuels Association and American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE).
The company also has been a supporter and investor in several other ethanol-related companies in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.
One of the keys to the future of the ethanol industry is E15, a 15 percent ethanol blended fuel that has been approved for use in vehicles model years 2001 and newer.
Iowa is poised to be one of the first states to make the new fuel available, likely in the next few weeks.
Wendland said Golden Grain was one of the first 20 ethanol plants registered as a supplier for the ethanol to be used in E15.
He said E10 fuel is 10 cents a gallon cheaper than regular gasoline, and E15 should be 15 cents cheaper, according to Wendland.
“That should help bring gas prices down a little bit,” he said.