Incident causes ethanol plant to cease operations

Published 5:05 pm Friday, January 16, 2009

First United Ethanol LLC, (FUEL) a recently opened ethanol production plant in Mitchell County, was forced to shut down operations for a week following an mechanical malfunction that occurred at the plant on Jan. 6.

FUEL released a statement explaining it was shutting down production at its “100 million gallon a year ethanol facility” for a week to conduct repairs and an analysis of the incident.

The news release states that on Jan. 6, “at approximately 11:30 a.m. a collared joint attached to one of the evaporators ruptured, resulting in a significant steam blow-off.”

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A statement was released a week later, on Jan. 14, reporting that all necessary repairs have been completed. It stated FUEL’s management team along with independent engineers completed the analysis of the incident to ensure the safety of employees and stability for continued production.

FUEL Director of Communications Alicia Shirah said the plant was reopened on Jan. 14 and was back up to 100 percent production on Jan. 15.

Shirah explained that defective steam valve at the plant failed to close allowing steam pressure to build up, which caused the evaporator rupture—as was initially expected to have been the cause. In addition to repairing the evaporator, other preemptive repairs were made to try and ensure similar incidents don’t happen in the future, said Shirah. No one was hurt during the incident.

At full capacity, the plant produces 300,000 gallons of ethanol each day making for a potential production loss of more than 2 million gallons over a seven-day period the plant was closed.

The plant is operated by Southwest Georgia Ethanol LLC and began producing ethanol on Oct. 10, 2008.