Waste Removal Resumes at Ethanol Plant

Toxic Wet Cake Removal Resumes at Defunct AltEn Ethanol Plant in Nebraska

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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Seed companies involved in the environmental cleanup of an ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, have resumed a pilot project to remove piles of pesticide-laden wet cake from the site. (DTN file photo by Todd Neeley)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Seed companies involved in an ongoing environmental cleanup at a former ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, are set to resume a pilot project started last year to remove wet cake from the abandoned AltEn site west of Omaha.

In November 2023, the seed companies that once sent pesticides-laden seed to the plant as a feedstock to produce ethanol, paused a pilot project to move wet cake to Waste Management's Pheasant Point landfill in Bennington, Nebraska.

According to a news release from the seed companies the project that was suspended because of cold weather is set to resume in the "coming weeks."

The AltEn ethanol plant just south of the town of Mead has been shut down since February 2021 following numerous environmental violations reported by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.

AltEn promoted the idea of accepting unsold treated corn seed from major companies but began stockpiling the contaminated wet cake on site after it was considered unfit for livestock feed or as a soil conditioner. The wet cake and ponds filled with pesticide-contaminated water on the site combined to create an environmental disaster for the neighboring residents.

The pilot project was designed to test the feasibility of solidifying wet cake and then disposing of it at a landfill.

More than 10,000 tons of solidified wet cake, or 515 truckloads, were transported to the landfill in Bennington in October and November 2023, according to the news release.

In addition, the facility response group organized to conduct the cleanup identified best practices for the wet cake removal this summer. Those companies include AgReliant, Bayer, Becks, Corteva Agriscience, Syngenta and Winfield United.

Trucks have also been moving other materials to the landfill including liners from one of the site's three water lagoons, according to the companies.

"We continue to make progress cutting deeper into the wet cake pile," NewFields Senior Engineer Bill Butler said in a news release. NewFields is an environmental cleanup company overseeing the cleanup at the ethanol plant.

"Our top priority is transporting the wet cake offsite to Pheasant Point landfill in the safest and most efficient way."

After the pilot project is completed, the companies said they will decide on a "preferred approach" to removing the remaining wet cake from the facility.

The seed companies and the former owners of the plant continue to work on a possible settlement of ongoing lawsuits related to the plant, according to a May 2024 status report filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.

"On May 10, 2024, the FRG (seed companies), the defendants and the state attended their second formal settlement meeting related to the global resolution of this and the other lawsuits," according to the report.

"While settlement agreement has not yet been reached, the FRG and defendants, and the state have communicated their alignment with a common settlement framework."

Additional formal settlement discussions are expected to continue through August 2024, according to the report.

Read more on DTN:

"Wet Cake Is Next Phase in AltEn Cleanup," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Settlement Talks Ongoing in AltEn Case," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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