Ag production on the South Plains really goes full circle, from seed companies to processing plants. Lubbock and the surrounding counties really have the complete infrastructure for several commodities. And sorghum is one crop that we see go from seed to end product, ending up as distillers grains or commercial grade ethanol at Diamond Ethanol in Levelland.
"We started the plant in October of 2012, we got full capacity the first month, 40 million gallons a year," Chuck Fryer, plant manager said. "We use roughly 40,000 bushels of sorghum and milo a year, produce 115,000 gallons of ethanol and about 40 truck loads of wet distillers grain."
Chuck Fryer is the Diamond Ethanol plant manager, and said that they've been running with a full tank since November.
"We bring your grain in, we grind it through hammer mills into a flour, mix it with water and enzymes, then run it through a cook system," Fryer said. "From the cook system, we get the starches broke out of it, we put it in a fermenter, add yeast, ferment it for about 48-54 hours, then run it through a distillation column, we recover the ethanol, we concentrate it up to a 200 proof ethanol and use gasoline to denature it with."
The majority of the grain that comes into the plant is from area producers, and the finished ethanol product also mostly stays local, with around 90% of the finished product being distributed within a 100 mile radius of Levelland.
"We quality grade the grain, we have to have a bushel weight of 54 pounds per bushel minimum, the ethanol leaves out at 200 proof and there's a water content of 1.0 or less," Fryer said.
Fryer said that the demand is only going to stay up for ethanol and renewable energies as a whole. Just blending current gasoline supplies with the modest 10% ethanol is extending our domestic fuel supply substantially.
"We blend 10% ethanol into gasoline right now, we're looking at an E-15," Fryer said. "Again that takes the oil imports from overseas out of the question, we just extend our gasoline supply in the United States."
Of course, sorghum production in our region is weather-dependent as with all farm crops. But Fryer hopes to continue turning out the full capacity of 40 million gallons of ethanol annually, along with both wet and dry distillers grains for feedlots.
"The industry is having a struggle with the drought, it's all about mother nature," Fryer said. "We need rain, and we need some good growing weather for our crops."
Diamond Ethanol is one of three ethanol plants under Conestoga Energy Partner's leadership in the country.