LINCOLN, Neb. — In the parking lot of Nebraska Innovation Campus’ (NIC) Food Processing Center (FPC), a white tent houses a temporary hand sanitizer production facility. More than 20 organizations have come together to help meet the escalating needs of our healthcare community. This means hospitals like Nebraska Medicine will get the supplies they need at no cost.
“We are very grateful to Nebraska’s ethanol producers, UNL, the State of Nebraska, and many other people and organizations for pulling together to make this happen,” said James Linder, MD, CEO of Nebraska Medicine. “At Nebraska Medicine we are using up to 500 liters (more than 132 gallons) of hand sanitizer a day. We are constantly looking for innovative ways to protect our frontline medical workers as they respond to this pandemic.”
Hunter Flodman, PhD., assistant professor of practice in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), who is also the technical advisor for the Nebraska Ethanol Board (NEB), and Jan tenBensel, NEB Chairman, have spearheaded the project. They started brainstorming ideas on Wednesday, April 1, and on Sunday, April 5, in a few short hours, more than 1,200 gallons of hand sanitizer had been mixed. By Monday, the team was in full production mode.
“The coronavirus pandemic has created greater problems than many of us could have imagined,” Dr. Flodman said. “After hearing about shortages of hand sanitizer, we hoped we could find a way to overcome some of the obstacles our fuel grade ethanol producers were facing – including navigating the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations. We found that opportunity at Nebraska Innovation Campus. This partnership with the Food Processing Center is key because it is an FDA-approved facility for the production of food. The FPC had to register with the FDA as an over-the-counter drug manufacturer for the process of producing hand sanitizer. Without them, we would not have been able to make this happen.”
“After we found a home for the project, everything has been falling into place,” tenBensel said. “We reached out to our ethanol industry partners, and one-by-one they started donating their goods and services and continue to do so. The response is remarkable.”
After the first full day of production, the team was able to distribute more than 2,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. They anticipate thousands more gallons by week’s end, which will go to hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, first responders, and other facilities in need. The project will continue as resources allow.
“Dr. Flodman worked virtually around the clock to design the production model, one that could produce up to 5,000 gallons per day if absolutely necessary and if supplies remained available,” said Terry Howell, executive director for the FPC.
At this time, Green Plains Inc., and KAAPA Ethanol are donating ethanol and BASF, Cargill, and Syngenta are providing the required chemicals and packaging materials. Sapp Bros. is collecting ethanol from the plants, storing it at their facility, and delivering it to NIC in small batches where Dr. Flodman, the FPC’s pilot plant employees, other FPC staff, and a team of student workers combine the ingredients and bottle it for distribution.
Roger Berry, administrator for the Nebraska Ethanol Board, said that some of Nebraska’s 25 ethanol plants have idled due to lack of demand, which is creating storage problems. Several ethanol producers across the nation are donating their products to hand sanitizer manufacturing efforts.
“We are proud of our ethanol producers’ involvement in this undertaking,” said Troy Bredenkamp, executive director of Renewable Fuels Nebraska. “It is the bit of positivity we needed right now. During a time when ethanol plants are facing catastrophic losses, the University has transitioned to remote classes, and businesses are changing how they operate, we’re honored to join in this effort to collectively help Nebraskans during this strange and challenging time.”
If you are a government or public health organization and would like to request hand sanitizer, please contact your local public health response coordinator for assistance and to coordinate delivery. For a full list of Nebraska’s public health response coordinators, click here.
This coordination has included the time, talents, and finances of many partners. While this is an ongoing effort and more ethanol plants will contribute as the FDA allows, the organizers recognized the following for their support: Aurora Coop; BASF Enzymes; Beatrice Scale Company; Bosselman Enterprises; Cargill; CKS; Gov. Pete Ricketts and these State of Nebraska agencies: Nebraska Department of Administrative Services, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, and the Nebraska Ethanol Board; Greenfield Global; Green Plains Inc.; HowatRisk; Johnson Matthey; KAAPA Ethanol; Market Actives; Nebraska Innovation Campus; Renewable Fuels Nebraska; Sapp Bros.; Syngenta; The American Cleaning Institute; and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln including the College of Engineering.
The Nebraska Ethanol Board works to ensure strong public policy and consumer support for biofuels. Since 1971, the independent state agency has designed and managed programs to expand production, market access, worker safety and technology innovation, including recruitment of producers interested in developing conventional ethanol, as well as bio-products from the ethanol platform. For more information, visit www.ethanol.nebraska.gov.
Renewable Fuels Nebraska (RFN) is the trade organization for Nebraska’s ethanol industry. We are an industry resource encouraging public policy that ensures the growth and expansion of the nation’s second largest renewable fuels industry. For more information visit renewablefuelsne.org.