A tale of hand sanitizer: How the ethanol supply chain pivoted for COVID-19

As Red River Biorefinery plotted its April opening, it planned to produce 16.5 million gallons of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) annually to sell as a fuel additive. Some might say the timing couldn’t have been worse, with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders spreading across the country.

“We weren’t driving, so our industry went down to about 50% production capacity,” said Kelly Davis, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Renewable Fuels Association.

If less ethanol is needed for fuel, theoretically plenty should be available for other essential goods, like disinfecting agents and hand sanitizer. After all, manufacturing capacity was idle, and the raw materials were plentiful, with about 40% of corn grown in the U.S. used for biofuel production. Red River’s raw materials, aggregated food byproducts like potatoes, pasta and sugar beet waste, were available as well.