Ethanol producer starts making sanitizer for health care

Sanford Health glad for supply from Poet, which gets nearby help with bottling

A man stands next to bottles that are in line to by filled with hand sanitizer and labeled

It’s the largest producer of biofuels in the world.

Now, Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Poet is shifting some of its operations from fuel to sanitizer. The move will help to keep Sanford Health caregivers and the greater community of caregivers and first responders safe.

“It became pretty obvious we had an opportunity to step up,” said President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Lautt via Skype.

Ethanol for sanitizer

“We needed to make some adjustments to our production and our process to create the right specifications that met the Food & Drug Administration and World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines. We were happy to achieve that recently and work with local partners in the community, city, state — with Sanford — to be able to provide supply in this very critical time,” Lautt said.

Poet’s team — including research scientists, engineers and operations personnel — turned a fuel-grade product into one that meets the needs of the health care industry.

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Poet worked with another local company, Groomer's Choice, to bottle its sanitizer. (Photo courtesy of Poet)

“The product is 80% ethanol. The WHO’s minimum is 60% ethanol. We boosted that to 80, which increases the virus-killing property,” Lautt said.

Right now, that’s exactly what Dean Weber, vice president of Sanford Health supply chain management, says we need.

“It’s a big gesture on their part,” Weber said. “Poet’s motivation was to help out, and in the end it becomes a small business venture while everyone is trying to get back on their feet. It worked out by people coming together saying, ‘What are the specifications? What are the needs?’ We were determined to make it work. They are our next-door neighbor, literally.”

Production is underway at Poet’s biorefinery in Chancellor, South Dakota.

“We’re excited to start meeting the needs. Our team will continue to scale up and respond to the demand that’s out there,” Lautt said.

Groomer’s Choice helps out

There’s another major player coming in with the sanitizer’s bottles and labels: Groomer’s Choice, a Sioux Falls-based national leader in wholesale pet grooming supplies.

“We decided we needed to do something,” said President and CEO Dan Dressen via Zoom.

Dressen said Poet really helped make this happen.

“It worked out perfectly,” he said. “They were at the right pace on it, we were at the right pace on it. They needed a bottler, we needed a producer of ethanol. We just came together to put this plan in place. It’s been a good thing. It’s allowed our plant to stay busy. We haven’t had to lay any employees off, and we’ve gotten quite a few orders on it. We’ve been running our lines literally nonstop — every shift, as fast as we can run it — so we can keep up with the demand. So it’s good.”

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Poet worked with another local company, Groomer's Choice, to bottle its sanitizer. (Photo courtesy of Poet)

Thanks to this new partnership, the team at Groomer’s Choice can produce upwards of 10,000 16-ounce bottles each day.

A win-win in the name of safety

Sanford Health will be among the many community groups and organizations to get roughly 10,000 of those bottles.

“We’ve been working hard for many weeks now trying to make sure Sanford Health has the right levels of supplies, prepared for a surge, that being hard to predict,” Weber said. “We continue to make adjustments where we can. When you look at the logistics of having a partner or supplier in your hometown. … The ingenuity, Midwestern values created this scenario where they’re helping not only caregivers but the community. We’re extremely happy to be partnered with them.”

These partnerships are proving — even through a pandemic — the spirit of community is alive.

“To be able to participate in a small but important way to Sanford and help them do what they’re doing on the front lines of caring for people in the community and the state, we’re honored to be a part of that,” Lautt said.

This opportunity for Poet is two-fold. Not only are they producing the finished product, but the company is selling large volumes of commercial-grade ethanol for distillers to refine into beverage-grade products they can then sell to major sanitizer manufacturers.

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Posted In Community, Coronavirus, Wellness

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