KANSAS CITY (B)--An ethanol plant with the capacity to consume about 2% of the state's annual corn crop opened during the weekend in northwestern Missouri. The $24 million facility--located near Craig, MO--will be operated by the Golden Triangle Energy Cooperative, and is expected to produce some 15 million gallons of ethanol annually.

"We are tremendously excited about this giant step forward for Missouri farmers to capture value from their corn production," said Gary Marshall, a spokesman for the Missouri Corn Growers Association, about the Feb. 17 opening of the plant.

The plant is expected to initially process 6 million bushels of corn per year, producing industrial grade alcohol and more than 100 million pounds of dry distillers grain, a high-quality livestock feed.

About 300 farmers have invested in the plant, which will have 33 full-time employees and generate an estimated $31 million in annual economic activity.

Ethanol, which is produced by a fermentation and distillation process that converts sugars to alcohol, is widely used as a high-octane fuel additive, represented in 12% of all motor fuel sold in the United States.

In the United States, fuel alcohol is primarily produced from corn, which yields 2.5 to 3 gallons of ethanol per bushel.

Byron Fink, GTEC President and farmer from Oregon, Missouri, said, "Thanks to the dedication of many farmers, public officials and others, we have turned the dream of an ethanol plant in Northwest Missouri into a reality."

Initial organizational meetings for the cooperative were held in July 1994, with ground-breaking ceremonies conducted in September 2000.

From just more than 10.0 million gallons of production in 1979, the domestic ethanol industry has grown to more than 1.6 billion of production in 2000. That output came from about 60 plants located across the United States, which consumed 592.5 million bushels of corn.

Experts think U.S. ethanol production could top 2 billion gallons in 2001, as plants planned for Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois and North Carolina come on line.

Missouri was the ninth-largest corn producing state in the United States last year, harvesting 396.1 million bushels of corn.

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