Kansas-based ICM is building an ethanol plant in Marysville, MI

Kansas-based ICM is building an ethanol plant in Marysville, MI

For obvious reasons, Iowa and a handful of nearby states have been nicknamed “the Corn Belt.” That region produces not only most of the corn in the US, but the corn used for everything from tire manufacturing to wallpaper paste, industrial chemicals and adult beverages.

Today's environmental concerns and global tensions have raised possibilities that soon the Corn Belt will have a new name. The region is rapidly becoming known as “the Ethanol-plant Belt.”

Demand for ethanol as a gasoline additive has America crying out for more plants that produce it. The US had 107 ethanol biorefineries last winter - most relying on corn as a feedstock. In early 2008, the plant count will leap to 163. Th ose plants will produce 9 billion ethanol gallons annually, up from 5.1 billion gallons last winter.

Cranes working at the Marysville job site include a Link-Belt RTC 8030, a Grove RT875, a Link-Belt RT 8075, a Manitowoc 3900, a Shuttlelift 5540, a Terex RT660, a Link-Belt RTC 80100, and a Manitowoc Model 222

According to Lyle Goering, construction equipment manager for ICM, his Colwich, KS-based company has had to adjust quickly to demand. ICM has chopped 25% of its typical, one-year timeframe for building an ethanol plant. “Now we try to do it in nine months,” Goering says.

A plant under construction in Marysville, MI, finds itself on that nine-month clock. “We can't build this plant and others like it fast enough,” Goering explains. “They're not just in the Corn Belt, either. They're in New York, Tennessee, Texas and other places.”

Marysville's accelerated construction schedule means more crafts on-site simultaneously. More cranes, too. For example, a 30 ton capacity Link-Belt RTC 8030 rough terrain crane with 90 foot boom serves the siding crew. The project has also required a Grove RT875 with 125 foot boom for hanging steel, and a Link-Belt RT 8075 with a 127 foot boom is helping erect the energy center. A 100 ton capacity Link-Belt RTC 80100 with 150 foot boom also hangs steel.

A 140 ton capacity Manitowoc 3900 crawler with a 240 foot boom is the project's largest crane. It will remain on site until the project ends.

A new 15 ton capacity Shuttlelift 5540 with 55 foot boom works in the DDG (storage) building, while a Terex RT660, 60 ton with a 110 foot boom, and a Manitowoc 222, 90 ton with 138 foot boom, helps erect the silos.

ICM owns its cranes and chooses operators carefully. That's a challenge, considering a rise in employment from 200 people about one year ago to nearly 700.

North Dakota-based Wanzek Construction has cranes on an ethanol plant project in Gowrie, IA

“Mobilization of the cranes has presented no problem,” Goering says. Each crane stays until its work ends. Then it's of by truck to another site. Each crane, except for the Manitowoc 3900, will move to another project when its specific task ends.

The only site issue was actually under the site, not on it. About 750,000 barrels of propane are securely stored under the project. About 600 feet of earth separates the propane containers from the soon-to-be ethanol plant. Even as ICM builds the plant, another company safely withdraws propane from the underground tanks and ships the gas by train. Day-to-day work on the common site has created no safety problems.

When completed in November, the Marysville plant will begin to meet a need that seems to have no end. Ethanol is renewable so demand will keep rising. Incentives from the Department of Energy continue to serve as a vital catalyst.

Jon Wanzek, executive vice president of Fargo, ND-based Wanzek Construction, sees no immediate end to the boom in ethanol plant construction. “Some of the intensity we're seeing right now might go away,” Wanzek says. “But the popularity and strength of ethanol will be with us for a long time.”

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