ONIDA, S.D. – Ringneck Energy’s shiny new 80- to 100-million-gallon/year ethanol plant was hailed at its grand opening June 25 as the most efficient in the United States and as a showcase of Sukup Manufacturing Co. material handling and grain storage equipment.
It is the largest single-site deployment of Sukup equipment both in number of pieces and in dollar value, said Steve Sukup, vice president and chief financial officer of Sukup Manufacturing and a member of the Ringneck Energy board of directors.
“As a company we’ve been expanding our commercial-scale material handling equipment offerings for the past several years,” he said. “This project really pulls it all together in a way that shows we can equip big commercial projects with the grain storage and handling equipment they need.”
Sukup equipment at Ringneck includes two 105’ diameter, 25-ring grain storage bins and a 21’ dia., 17-ring hopper bin; several bucket elevators and conveyors; several catwalks and support towers, including an 18’ x 18’ x 160’ tower; two zero-entry bin sweeps, each with a 12” dia. auger; two buildings, including a 125’ x 250’ x 40’ warehouse for dried distillers grains and a 65’ x 100’ x 40’ unloading and loading building.
“We wanted to be a Sukup showplace, and hopefully we’ve accomplished that,” said Walt Wendland, chief executive officer of Ringneck Energy.
Construction of the $130 million Ringneck project began in 2017 and ended near the end of 2018. Production began in April. The plant was designed to produce 80 million to 100 million gallons a year of ethanol. It can load a 96-car train of tanker cars in about one week.
“This plant is awesome. It can do really great things,” Danci Baker, chief financial officer, told Ringneck shareholders at their first annual meeting prior to the grand opening of the plant.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden both attended the event and praised the project. “We’ve been following this for quite some time,” Noem said, adding that she personally is an investor in the facility and is pushing to expand the use of ethanol blends in state vehicles.
She and Rhoden said they would like to see South Dakota be a leader in the ethanol industry, and encouraged the roughly 100 people attending the grand opening to encourage their friends and relatives to use ethanol products. As well, they should discourage federal officials from granting waivers to companies that do not want to blend their fuels with ethanol. Waivers have cost the ethanol industry billions of gallons, Noem said.
Ron Fagen, chairman of Fagen Inc., general contractor for the Ringneck plant, has had a hand in construction of more than 100 of the roughly 250 ethanol plants in the United States. He said the Sukup equipment, company leaders and service personnel are wonderful to work with.
“We’ve never been disappointed with the Sukup products,” he said, adding that the bins go together remarkably well. He said his first was nearly 20 years ago in Denison, Iowa, and last year built two 156’ dia. Sukup bins at Elite Octane near Atlantic, Iowa. “Sukup is high-class,” he said, adding that he recently purchased a Sukup Steel Building for his headquarters in Granite Falls, Minn.
Sukup Manufacturing Co. has provided equipment for about 40 ethanol plants since 2004, with the vast majority since 2010, according to Matt Koch, senior electrical engineer at Sukup Manufacturing. “In the past 10 years we’ve been the name of the game in ethanol plant grain storage.”
Sukup’s 156’ diameter clear-span bins are the largest in the industry. Its commercial bin sweeps, mixed-flow grain dryer and advanced control systems are among 14 products that have won ag engineering innovation awards since 2012 from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Sukup began offering commercial bucket elevators in 2013 and now has the capability to lift 60,000 bushels per hour, said Randy Marcks, director of material handling equipment sales. The company’s commercial drag conveyors debuted in 2015. While the largest to date conveys 40,000 BPH, there is capacity for 60,000 BPH, Marcks said.
Expanding into commercial grain handling and storage markets was a natural progression for Sukup Manufacturing. Since its founding by Eugene Sukup in 1963 with his invention of a grain stirring machine, the company’s focus for nearly three decades was on making farm-level grain handling and storage more safe, profitable and efficient. The company developed a reputation for having top-notch stirring machines, fans, unload systems and other equipment. Its launch of automatic continuous-flow grain dryers in 1998 and a line of grain bins in 2000 helped position the company for larger markets.
Sales of commercial equipment have grown steadily, said company President Charles Sukup.
“Some people look at grain bins as tin cans – all the same. But that’s not the case when you look closely at Sukup bins,” he said.
He cited two innovations in grain bin design that have set Sukup bins apart from those of other manufacturers – sidewall splice plates and double-ended stud bolts. The splice plates allow laminated sidewall sheets to be connected end-to-end instead of overlapped. The plates simplify construction and provide for a more watertight bin than using the traditional method of overlapping sheets.
The double-ended stud bolts provide a tight seal between bin stiffeners and sidewall sheets, solving the issue of moisture leaking into the bin through gaps between stiffeners and laps of laminated sidewall sheets.
“Our people are always looking at issues and developing solutions,” Charles Sukup said, for both on-farm and commercial equipment. “We’re definitely a continuous-improvement company.”
Providing equipment that allows ethanol producers to build bigger and more efficient plants is gratifying work, he said. Ethanol has “been a tremendous benefit to the country, especially in the Midwest.”
Helping to build an industry that produces clean-burning fuel from a renewable source, that improves energy security and helps support grain markets for farmers … It’s an honor to be a part of it all, he said, and it drives the entire company to work on solutions for any challenges that arise.