Patriot plant stands up for biofuels with expansion plans

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A Henry County ethanol plant is expanding during challenging times. Patriot Renewable Fuels will soon be adding biodiesel fuel to its portfolio. But the company is joining the fight to battle a federal proposal that could threaten its success.

Patriot is building for the future in Annawan, Illinois.  A snowy field will feature a $10 million biodiesel plant. When it opens in late 2014, it will serve the farming and trucking community.

"We think we can be a low-cost producer by doing it in house," said Patriot President Gene Griffith.

The company will double its use from the 40 million bushels of corn it buys each year. Some 60 staffers work 24/7 to produce ethanol at the Annawan plant. Soon, they'll make biodiesel from the same corn.

"Being on Interstate 80, there's plenty of truck stops to market our product," said Commodities Manager Judd Hulting. "We think it's a natural fit."

The expansion comes at a crossroads for the biofuels industry.  Companies like Patriot are fighting proposed cuts in the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).  That could reduce the amount of ethanol in gas along with reductions for biodiesel fuel.

Patriot and other ethanol supporters would rather have levels increasing. In Annawan, production already meets environmental and economic goals for the RFS. More reasons why they're fighting for ethanol.

"We're actually cleaning the air," said Hulting. "We're reducing our dependency on foreign oil, and we're creating a lot of jobs."

Patriot is looking to add value for some 200 investors. But it needs national support to build on that base.

"It's going to impact the farmers," Griffith warned. "It's going to impact their ability to operate their business. It's going to impact all of the communities that we're a part of."

They're trying to promote fuel for the future that's rooted here in the heartland.