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In the last fifteen years, the production of ethanol has increased dramatically due to the demand for ethanol-blend fuels.  Current production (November 2014) in the United States is almost 15 billion gallons (14.932 billions).  On December 19, 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was signed into law.  This comprehensive energy legislation amended the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) signed into law in 2005, growing the RFS to 36 billion gallons in 2022.  There are 213 nameplate refineries, with additional refineries being proposed/expanded.  Most the ethanol refineries are located in the Midewest and upper Midwest.  Ethanol is produced by fermentation and distillation processes.  The most common ethanol concentration leaving a biorefinery is denatured fuel ethanol which consists of 98% ethanol and 2% denaturing agent (rust inhibitor).  Natural gasoline is also mixed with the alcohol, prior to shipment.


 The yellow circles indicate refineries under construction.  The green circles are operational ethanol plants.
Denatured ethanol is largely shipped from production facilities by rail and is now the largest volume hazardous material shipped by rail.
Large volumes of ethanol are commonly shipped by unit trains, up to 3.5 million gallons, and the larger barges can transport up to 2.5 million gallons.  In Massachusetts, two to three ethanol unit trains currently travel through the state per week, as well as an ethanol barge per week.  The number of trains and barges transporting denatured ethanol (95% – 98% ethanol) through the state are anticipated to increase in the future, especially if the use of higher ethanol blends becomes more prevalent. The high volume of ethanol transported and the differences in the chemical properties, and the fate and transport of ethanol as compared to standard gasoline, led to the need for additional consideration of spill response actions. In particular, this document considers the assessment and response actions for rail and barge spills of denatured ethanol.
Ethanol is a flammable colorless liquid; a polar solvent that is completely miscible in water. It is heavier than air, and has a wider flammable range than gasoline, with a Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) to an Upper Explosive Limit (UEL) range of 3.3% to 19%. The flash point for pure ethanol is 55°F, and for denatured ethanol it is much lower (-5°F). Ethanol is still considered a flammable liquid in solutions as dilute as 20%, with a flash point of 97°F. At colder temperatures (below about 51°F), the vapor pressure of ethanol is outside the flammable range. Denatured ethanol is shipped with a flammable liquids placard and North American 1987 designation.
Here is a partial list of some fires and explosions involving ethanol plants across the United States.  Due to the flammable and explosive nature of the process, these fires and explosions occur at some frequency.

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Arkalon Energy LLC, Liberal, Kansas
A corn dryer caught fire and exploded.  The combustion chamber of the dryer exploded due to natural gas.
Green Plains Renewable Energy, Fergus Falls, MN
A hydraulic pump which controls the damper in the dryer building of the Green Plains Renewable Energy plant failed
Flint Hill Resources, Arthur, Iowa – Platinum Ethanol Plant, 2585 Quail Avenue, Arthur, IA
A distilled grains dryer exploded, damaging a unit of the building.
Badger State Ethanol Plant 820 W. 17th Street
P.O. Box 317 Monroe, WI 53566
small fire and explosion in silo
Ethanol of Florida, E 1705 Mann Rd , Bartow FL Polk – County
a tank containing alcohol exploded near the rear of an ethanol plant
Abengoa Bioenergía , 395 Bissell St. Madison, IL, 63060, USA
Men were working near a container in a maintenance shed when the container exploded.
Lincolnway Energy, 59511 West Lincoln Highway, Nevada, Iowa
Explosion at the ethanol plant.  A power surge caused a steam pipe to burst, burning the workers who were performing maintenance nearby
American AG Fuels, Defiance, Ohio
unknown reason for blast, but happened in loading area
Appomattox Bio Energy Plant, 701 S. 6th Avenue, Hopewell Virginia 23860
vapors back-up and the vapors were in a device that has a burner in it and so the vapors ignited
Chief Industries, 4225 E South St. • PO Box 488 • Hastings, NE 68901
the men opened the door of a grain grinder while doing maintenance and a small explosion occurred.
Mar. 6, 2009
Poet Ethanol Plant , 27716 462ND AVE. CHANCELLOR, SD 57015
issue with feed dryer. Worker were taking downt he dryer when a a small amount of dust ignited.
Pinal Energy, 38585 W Cowtown Rd Maricopa, AZ 85139
the explosion was possibly the result of corn by-product dust particles that were ignited by a heating system used in the ethanol-producing drying process.
Central Minnesota Ethanol Co-op in Little Falls, Minn.
the damage was contained to a biomass gasification system
Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. 270 20th St. NW, Benson, MN 56215
A tank holding 40,000 gallons of corn mash, exploding with a “whoosh and a flash”
Oct. 22, 2003
A LyondellBasell US ethanol 625 East US Highway 36,
Tuscola, IL 61953
plant rocked by an explosion on Monday
Collingwood Ethanol plant
fire in silo
Amaizeingly Green L.P formerly Collingwood Ethanol
The company was convicted of a number of charges laid by
the MOE related to odour and noise issues.
Tharaldson ethanol plant 3549 153rd Avenue SE Casselton, ND 58012
contained to a dust collection bin.
Constellation New Energy Inc
3201 West Calvert Street South Bend, IN 46613-1010
fire not clear
Bushmills Ethanol, Atwater, MN 56209
fire on conveyor belt
Bushmills Ethanol, Atwater, MN 56209
natural gas leak
Poet Refining, Caro, MI 48723
fire in the ductwork between the dryers and thermal oxydizer caught fire
Pinal Energy, 38585 W Cowtown Rd Maricopa, AZ 85139
explosion at a grain elevator
Glacial Lakes Energy
fire in large corn dryer
East Kansas Agri Energy
Ethanol Explosion
anildra Ethanol Plant, Bomaderry, NSW 2541
Greater Ohio Ethanol, Lima OH
dust fueled fire in duct work
Central Minnesota Ethanol Co-op, Little Falls, Minn.
explosion in a wood chip storage silo
Poet Biorefining Michigan Ethanol
fire in hot spots in the ductwork
Glacial Lakes Energy, Mina, SD 57451
electrical motor blamed for the fire at the bottom of a grain bin
Abengoa Bioenergy, York, NE 68467
fire in duct work
Andersons Albion Ethanol, Sheridan Township, MI
explosion in the dryer
Poet Biorefining Mitchell, Loomis, S.D
flash fire,
Pine Lake Corn Processors, Steamboat Rock, IA 50672
Dryer explosion
Central Minnesota Ethanol Co-op in Little Falls, Minn.
explosion in silo/biomass gasification system
AGP Ethanol plant, Hastings
fire in soybean meal dryer
Big River Resources, West Burlington, IA
fire in bin that is used to dry animal feed
Heartland Grain Fuels, Aberdeen, SD
dryer fire
Michigan Ethanol/Poet, Caro, MI
dryer fire during routine dryer shutdown
Great Plains Ethanol/Poet, SD
power outage/ fire stated when feed ignited
Gopher State Ethanol/ out of business
a piece of insulation fell into a heated area, setting the roof
on fire
Tri-County Ethanol/North Country Ethanol, S. Dakota
fire and explosion in the distillation area
Gopher State Ethanol, Saint Paul, MN
fire in grain drying unit
Gopher State Ethanol, Saint Paul, MN
fire in grain drying unit
Corn Plus, Winebago, MN
older dryer fire
Heartland Grain Fuels, Aberdeen, SD
fire started after a valve allowed 200 proof raw alcohol to
drain onto the floor and run out an open door. A spark from welding equipment used by a crew working on the second floor of the building ignited the alcohol.
New Energy, South Bend, Indiana
fire contained to the bag house. Spontaneous combustion the
Minnesota Energy, Buffalo Lake, MN
fire in the dryer
Yokkaichi, Mie, Japan
explosion in recycle gas piping near reactor due to erosion
Cornhusker Energy Lexington LLC, NE
natural gas rupture
Manildra Park Petroleum, Australia
Delta Oil Mill, Greenwood, Miss
grain fire
Surat India
leak in ethanol pipeline
Equistar Chemicals, Tuscola, Illinois
confined to a furnace
Agri-Energy, 1304 S. Main St., Garnett, Kansas
Lincolnland Agri- Energy, Palestine, Ill
boiler or maintenance area explosion, caused severe damage at the plant
fire in a storage unit used to house grain and wheat at the FUEL Ethanol Plant in Pelham.
The fire was caused after a piece of burning conveyor belt fell into the bin.  Fire burns conveyor and 750,000 bushel grain.
explosion at an ethanol tank sent flames 40 feet in the air
Explosion and fire in a germ dryer and bagging processor. But the fire extended into the grain handling ductwork and spread to other pieces of equipment
The power at the facility went down.  The system that dries feed to make ethanol shut down, and heat inside the building caused some of the grain to start on fire.  The lack of power made it difficult to fight the fire.
the distillery at an Atchison alcohol plant exploded, throwing debris across Main Street and shaking surrounding buildings.
Train accidents do have the potential to do more than puncture a tank car. Ethanol train accidents, for example, have resulted in multiple car derailments that have sparked massive fireballs.  In one of the worst cases, in Cherry Valley, Illinois, in 2009, a derailment of 13 ethanol cars and resulting fire killed one person at a rail crossing and injured seven others, led to the evacuation of 600 homes, and caused $8 million in damages.
A number of large volume ethanol incidents have occurred. Some of these have resulted in significant fires, most of which have been allowed to burn. Water has been used in some incidents, primarily to protect nearby structures or tanks.  Alcohol-resistant foam has also been used, primarily to extinguish fires within tanker cars.  Sampling and analysis of environmental media that has occurred in connection with spill response activities have shown impacts related to these spills, although they are generally of relatively short duration.  The most significant documented impact was a large fish kill that occurred in Kentucky as a result of a bourbon spill.  This effect was related to oxygen deficiency resulting from ethanol biodegradation, rather than direct toxicity. Another fish kill was observed subsequent to a spill in Illinois, but it has not been definitively attributed to the spill.


Summary of Ethanol Incidents Nationwide between 2008 & 2014
Reviewed 40 incidents where ethanol or an unidentified hazardous material was released.
·         25 incidents involved release of ethanol
·         14 incidents involved release of unknown hazardous material
·         Four incidents had detailed reports available from the FRA or National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  Remaining information collected from media sources and crash reports.
·         Improper track inspections/maintenance and lack of communication were the major causes of the derailments.
·         Train speed and DOT-111 railcar design contributed to the release of ethanol.  One event resulted in a fatality, two events resulted in personal injury.
·         Average cost of damages to railroad property is $1,900,000 per incident.


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