POET Bioprocessing – Chancellor helps lead the way in carbon reduction and community building
Nestled amidst the tranquil charm of Chancellor, South Dakota, lies the beating heart of innovation — a POET bioprocessing facility. Here, science and nature converge to power the future. POET Bioprocessing – Chancellor is distinct, even among POET facilities, for piloting sustainable technologies to fuel the facility.
For starters, POET – Chancellor is unique in that it gets nearly half of its energy from recycled sources. An eleven-mile pipeline connects the plant with the Sioux Falls Landfill, which supplies it with biogas. Plus, the facility also has a solid fuel boiler, which enables it to daily use several hundred tons of wood chips from recycled pallets, waste wood from downed trees, and wood targets from a local axe-throwing business. After the holidays, it even uses recycled Christmas trees.
“For a few days after Christmas, it smells really good around here,” said Tom Pierson, General Manager of POET Bioprocessing – Chancellor. “Recycling Christmas trees is one of the more visible ways we interact with the Chancellor community. It’s a great opportunity for us to show our sustainability initiatives to those around us.”
For all of its twenty-year history, Chancellor has been dedicated to lowering its carbon intensity (CI) score. CI is the metric for which companies and products are evaluated based on their environmental impact, and it is increasingly becoming a commodity that bioethanol facilities can utilize to access low-carbon markets.
But soon, this innovative and sustainable facility is on deck to get even greener.
POET, as a whole, is constantly exploring new options and initiatives to continue to lower its bioprocessing facilities' carbon intensity scores. Whether it be more efficient processes or new technology, POET is committed to being carbon neutral by 2050.
Low CI means access to new markets and value.
“Because of our low carbon-intensity score, it gives us access to West Coast markets, which in turn enables us to earn a premium on our bioethanol,” said Pierson. “And recently, Canada has also begun to enact stricter air quality standards, which has opened up markets for us in Saskatchewan and Alberta. We’re unique in that currently two-thirds of our bioethanol product goes to the West Coast, while one-third goes to western Canada.”
Originally built in 2003 as a 45–million–gallon facility, good profits and an abundance of corn led to an expansion in 2008. Today, from 40 million bushels of locally sourced corn, Chancellor’s 65 team members produce 120 million gallons of bioethanol annually, plus 56,000 tons of dried distillers grains, making it one of the larger facilities in the POET family. Another bioproduct that promises to have excellent potential is using its low–metal corn oil to produce renewable diesel fuel.
Today, many of Chancellor’s team members and customers are local, but some also come from other POET locations and towns.
“We have a blend of people whose families have been here for generations, plus folks from nearby Sioux Falls, who have seen us as a good opportunity,” said Pierson.
Both as a facility and as individuals, POET and its team members are deeply involved in the local community. Some of those activities include supporting local 4-H and FFA chapters, area fire departments and ambulance services, and partnering to sponsor a community meal to kick off the Turner County Fair, a.k.a. “the best four days of the summer.”
Off the job, Pierson enjoys what his wife, Sherri, refers to as his “vice”— raising a small cow-calf herd of Shorthorn cattle. At work, it’s more than just a job.
“I feel like it’s a noble cause,” he said. “We’re in the right place in the supply chain to supply fuel that’s good for the environment, feed for livestock, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and provide some really good jobs for people to feed their families.”
Jumped Right In
“I had an uncle who was working here in maintenance and asked me if I’d like to apply for a position here,” said LeRoy Eilmes. “I was hired, jumped in with both feet and now I’ve been here 17 years.”
As a shift supervisor at POET – Chancellor, Eilmes’s responsibilities include making sure samples are getting taken appropriately, things are running according to specifications, and generally just doing his part to keep the facility running efficiently. Somewhat ironically, he said one of his favorite parts of the job is troubleshooting.
“On one hand, no one wants trouble, but I really like troubleshooting — figuring out why something’s not running right, what we need to do to fix it, and making the necessary adjustments,” he said.
Eilmes, whose off-the-job interests include snowmobiling, grilling out, and spending time with his family, said of his work, “It’s been a good job. We have a good group here, and everyone’s very supportive of each other.”
Keeping it Close to Home
POET–Chancellor Quality Manager Sarah Voegele grew up in nearby Lennox, South Dakota, and has spent her life in the community, in which her family is heavily involved.
“My husband raises show cattle, and our kids are very involved in 4-H, FFA, and showing livestock — cattle, pigs, and goats,” she said. “POET has been very supportive of those activities, as well as our local fairs, all of which are close to my heart.”
At work, Voegele has a big job. She and two lab technicians make sure all the instruments for the team members who take samples are calibrated correctly, which in turn leads to an even bigger responsibility.
“Every single product POET – Chancellor sells comes through our lab, where we put certifications on and make sure they’re meeting the quality specs for our customers,” she said.
Voegele has been with POET for 17 years and appreciates the emphasis POET places on helping team members advance and grow, of which she is a beneficiary. But she also appreciates the opportunity to stay close to
“A lot of us here are from the local community,” she said. “It really feels like a family here.”