This chart from the Renewable Fuels Association illustrates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ethanol industry.

In the year since the Ringneck Energy ethanol plant opened, the company has endured a rocky start and a pandemic, and come out on the other side sleeker and ready to meet the needs of emerging markets.

CEO Walt Wendland says that when the plant began operating last June, Ringneck Energy encountered issues associated with operating a newly engineered plant. “It took a while to remedy some of the hiccups we came across.”

Wendland says another issue Ringneck encountered early on was finding markets for their wet distiller’s grain “as a new producer, which hurt our ability to consistently operate at our 80 million gallons per year nameplate.”

“As soon as fall rolled around, we had everything fixed, and production went really well from the beginning of October until COVID hit in the middle of March.”

Like ethanol facilities across the nation, Ringneck’s production was cut nearly in half. “We went from producing about 250,000 gallons a day to about 135,000 gallons a day, just because there was no demand,” said Wendland.

Lack of demand also impacted prices which fell from $1.30 to $.70 in just a few weeks. “In a two week period of time, demand for ethanol dropped 52%. The industry went from producing 16.5 billion gallons to 8.2 billion.”

In order to survive, Ringneck began seeking out new markets for their product. At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “approved use of our production to be made into hand sanitizer. Being a new plant, we were able to meet a lot of the guidelines without spending a lot of money on plant improvements, which was a real advantage to us.”

Wendland says that the new plant operation combined with the fact that Ringneck doesn’t add a lot of chemicals to their process “allowed us to produce a cleaner product for hand sanitizer.”

“We’ve been cleaner from day one with no credit for that in the fuel industry,” Wendland continued, “but being clean has paid dividends in producing the alcohol for sanitizers.”

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