Imagine being a business that turns over its inventory two or three times daily. It can be stressful, chaotic and a downright logistics nightmare. That’s where POET Ethanol Products’ carbon dioxide (CO2) production group, located in Wichita, Kan., steps in to help.
Many of POET’S CO2 customers are food and beverage companies that Brad Jones, CO2 Marketing Manager, POET Ethanol Products, describes as “just-in-time” businesses. Because of the lack of storage, these companies may turn over their available inventory multiple times daily and need numerous “just-in-time” deliveries before supply runs out.
Coordinating these deliveries requires a great deal of communication and collaboration across POET Ethanol Products’ team. A scheduler physically manages the customers’ inventory. A fleet of trucks load CO2 at the production sites and deliver the product on time, on spec and hasslefree to customers’ inventory wherever that may be, Jones notes. “And that is a fairly complex scenario. Although it sounds simplistic, it’s not,” he says.
POET Ethanol Products aims to offer the most efficient, consistent and reliable CO2 product to customers. Jones says POET’S CO2 division is the fastest growing CO2 producer in the United States. In the last five years, it has added six new CO2- capturing facilities, bringing its total to 11, which cover five percent of the nation’s CO2 demand. Eight of those facilities are located adjacent to POET bioprocessing facilities.
CO2 is a natural byproduct of the biofuels production process. Yeast consumes simple sugars found in the corn and creates CO2. POET captures the CO2 and processes it into liquid form, which can be utilized a variety of ways. Food companies like Tyson, for example, use it to prevent bacterial growth and for chilling.
From 2007 to 2016, around 26 percent of the liquid CO2 for the U.S. market was produced from deposits of CO2 found beneath the earth’s surface, according to Intelligas Consulting. This CO2 is in a sequestered state and is extracted by drilling wells to access it. In contrast, POET captures CO2 naturally since it’s a byproduct of the biofuel production process. No drilling is required.
“When POET is able to provide consumers with its biorefined CO2, it reduces the need for CO2 from other sources — such as the earth’s sequestered CO2 — and helps accomplish a sustainability intention that POET and customers can be proud of,” says Christian McIlvain, Vice President — Denaturant & Carbon Dioxide, POET Ethanol Products.
Throughout the CO2 industry, exact end-product specifications need to be met, no matter the starting material. Because of the biofuel production process, POET’s CO2 feedstock byproduct is cleaner than other feedstocks in the industry and requires less processing.
“POET, through our CO2 business, utilizes this clean stream of gas to supply customers ranging from local municipalities to the top food and beverage producers in the U.S. with high-quality liquid CO2,” McIlvain says.
POET has put in place a vertically integrated system with multiple miniskid liquid C02 production operations located adjacent to its bioprocessing facilities to minimize freight and offer a better value to its customers with a consistent and reliable supply.
The mini-skid strategy calls for CO2 to be piped from the nearby bioprocessing facility to a liquefaction facility where the gas is compressed and then cooled before being sent to high-pressure storage tanks that house the CO2 until trucks and trailers fill and deliver the finished product to customers. “What that allows us to do … if we have maintenance-related downtime at one CO2 facility, the customer doesn’t see that production interruption. We are able to continually keep them supplied with CO2, which is among our top priorities,” McIlvain says.
POET’s ability to manage the demand and provide a consistent supply through its mini-skid operations has garnered awards in the food industry. Tyson Foods recognized POET’s CO2 group as a supplier of the year in 2016. It was confirmation of the work they had been putting into a new business and customer service strategy.
“To be validated by someone like Tyson, one of the largest CO2-consuming businesses in the United States, our pace of growth with them and the recognition we received as a Supplier of the Year, the magnitude of that is enormous. For them to recognize us in such a way was again reaffirming that the systems we have put in place are working,” Jones says.
Today, Jones, along with McIlvain and the entire CO2 team, continue to prove the business is award-worthy.
“We have nearly doubled the amount of what we were producing five years ago,” McIlvain says.
The partnership with POET’s bioprocessing facilities to capture the CO2 and the use of the mini-skid CO2 production facilities have further enhanced the company’s competitive advantage.
“Our ability to work hand-in-hand with the production side and be part of the decision making that transpires is extremely important because our competitors don’t enjoy that advantage. We are the only one out there that has a vertically integrated supply system,” Jones says. POET Ethanol Products’ focus will likely continue to be on food and beverage companies.
“Our future I think is going to be more heavily weighted towards developing larger-scale partnerships with mega food and or beverage companies. I would even go so far as to say our future growth will be heavily weighted toward further consolidated large food processing companies. I think that’s where a lot of forward momentum is in the CO2 business,” Jones says.
A variety of disciplines goes into making, marketing and delivering CO2 products. What every area at POET Ethanol Products has in common — from the quality control and quality analysis team to the truck drivers — is the desire to create and maintain excellent customer service.
“POET Ethanol Products is a very relationship-oriented organization. If you look beyond POET, into the CO2 manufacturing and supply industry, it looks to be a very transactional industry, and so our focus on relationships and customer service is something that consumers of CO2 very much seem to value. We continue to see the benefits of this approach as business and relationships with our customers grow and develop through time,” McIlvain says.
McIlvain notes it’s a good economic business model that he expects will sustain the company for years to come.