Midwest Renewable Energy, LLC (MRE) operates a dry-mill ethanol plant located near Sutherland, Nebraska. The plant generates fuel-grade ethanol via natural fermentation and distillation of corn, primarily for blending with gasoline and other motor fuels. The facility, approximately one mile east of Sutherland, was originally constructed in 1991 by Nebraska Nutrients, Inc. Nebraska Nutrients utilized a modified wet milling concept as the basis for its process technology. The plant never operated to expectations. During the period from 1991-1994, the facility was the subject of litigation among the principal owners of Nebraska Nutrients. In December 1995, the facility conducted sufficient operations to qualify for the State Producer Tax Incentives but never commenced commercial scale operations. Nebraska Nutrients subsequently filed for bankruptcy. The plant remained idle until purchased by Sutherland Associates, LLC from the bankruptcy trustee in February 1999. After extensive improvements and renovation, the Project began its start-up in November 1999 and commenced commercial operations in January 2000. Records indicate that the 1999 improvements were designed by Delta-T, with the principal contractor being Fagan Construction of Granite Falls, MN. Lurgi/PSI of Memphis, TN provided construction management services for a portion of the Project development period. Delta-T, under the name Sutherland Associates, LLC operated the plant. Each of these firms has had significant previous experience in ethanol plant design and construction. The plant ran at less than the anticipated capacity from May 2000 to December 2001 averaging less than 14 MGY rates. The total amount produced during this period was 18.5 million gallons. The plant did not perform as expected. Due to poor evaporation, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality called for the plant to stop operations until the problems of waste stillage disposal could be resolved. During the shutdown, Delta-T sold the assets to Mr. Tony Ball, an engineer and entrepreneur. In early 2002, Mr. Ball attempted to restart the plant under the close watch of the primary lender from the previous ownership, Stearns Bank of St. Cloud, MN. The bank was unwilling to advance additional funds to Mr. Ball and the plant never restarted. Stearns Bank foreclosed on the facility in the summer of 2002. On April 25, 2003, Midwest Renewable Energy, LLC purchased all of the assets of Nebraska Ethanol, LLC, a company wholly owned by Stearns Bank. In December 2003, the facility was stripped of all process equipment. MRE conducted start-up operations in the summer of 2004 and declared full operations in September 2004. Today, MRE runs at a rate of 28 million gallons per year. The cost of the complete retrofit was approximately $9 million. An expansion to operate at 110 million gallons is expected to begin in 2006.
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