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Retiring Al-Corn CEO: Ethanol’s future bright

Retiring Al-Corn CEO: Ethanol’s future bright, Randy Doyal
Randy Doyal of Owatonna has retired as the CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel ethanol plant in Claremont.
Karen M. Jorgensen, Contributing Writer
“God designed this to work… science is seeing God’s fingerprints on everything.”
-Randy Doyal, Retiring Al-Corn CEO

When Randall Doyal moved to Minnesota from Texas a bit over 26 years ago, Al-Corn Clean Fuel in Claremont was producing 10 million gallons of ethanol a year. When he retired two weeks ago, the plant was up to 130 million gallons a year.

In the 40 years he has been in the ethanol business, Doyal says he has seen the ups and downs and lots of changes. There have been challenging issues, such as the recent efforts to allow E15 ethanol to be blended into gasoline and sold all year, and, changing tariff regulations that affected Al-Corn’s selling of distiller’s grain, a by-product of ethanol production, to China as a livestock food.

Still, Doyal believes that the future for ethanol is positive.

“The future is good for ethanol,” Doyal said last week. “We will have the internal combustion engine for a long time.”

While there is a push for electric vehicles, he said, that is not possible until there is the capacity to generate electricity. Nuclear is the cleanest fuel, he said, but there are still issues regarding its use. And hydrogen, he said, is extremely volatile.

While the ethanol produced by Al-Corn comes from corn, he said, “you can make ethanol from lots of grains.” He pointed to Brazil where in the northern part of the country it is made from corn and in the southern part from sugar cane.

As a fuel, he said, ethanol burns more completely and makes for a cleaner gasoline and higher octane. Ethanol, he added, is not a new concept. Henry Ford designed his cars to run on alcohol, not gasoline, he said. “Ethanol is the high octane way Ford designed his cars to run,” he said. Ethanol plants were built during World War II, he added.

Forwarding to today when the issue is the environment, “ethanol is the best for the environment,” he said.

Continuous improvement is the goal of Al-Corn, he said.

Al-Corn now uses one-third of the water to produce ethanol than it did when he came to Minnesota, Doyal said. The water is reused, and Al-Corn was the first ethanol plant to have zero liquid discharge.

They have also reduced the energy used in production of ethanol and its byproducts, distillers grain and corn oil. The corn oil produced, Doyal said, is used in the production of bio-diesel.

Al-Corn, he said, began as a co-op and the corn used to produce ethanol came from the farmer-members.

As the company grew and expanded its production capacity it became more difficult to get enough corn from its members. In recent years, he said, it changed from a co-op to a LLC. That allows them to buy more grain from non-member than the previous co-op model.

Al-Corn now buys corn from a wider area of southern Minnesota reaching as far east as the Mississippi River and even into Wisconsin.

The ethanol produced at Al-Corn goes to refineries where it is blended into the gasoline. The distillers grain is shipped to buyers worldwide. This year, Doyal said, more distillers grain was sold to Canada due to growing conditions there.

The Doyals have lived in Owatonna since they moved from Texas at the end of 1995 and plan to continue making it their home, he said. A New Mexico native who lived in Texas for many years, he said, they are also looking to buy a second home in the Lone Star state.

And while he is retiring from Al-Corn, he said he plans to keep involved in the ethanol industry and other organizations.

Doyal said he, and Al-Corn members, believe in continuous improvement and collaboration. Where they got two-and-a-half gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn at the beginning, they now get three gallons per bushel. For every one train of distillers grain they used to send out from the plant, they now send four.

Al-Corn has partnered with other companies to develop new and improved ways of producing the product, he said.

Thomas Harwood, the new CEO at Al-Corn, first worked with the company, Doyal said, in those cooperative ventures. Harwood, Doyal said, has been at Al-Corn for five years and as an engineer brought new skills into the business.

Doyal’s philosophy on his years in the ethanol business can probably be explained by a story he related.

He said he once picked up a hitchhiker who was on his way to Nebraska. The man asked Doyal what he did. They were driving and seeing the cornfields Doyal said he worked in solar energy. The corn, he said, is really a solar collector. It uses sunlight and pulls out CO2. The kernels store the energy created and it can be turned into liquid. The corn belt, Doyal added, produces more oxygen in the growing season than the rain forest.

“God designed this to work,” he said. “Science is seeing God’s fingerprints on everything.”

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