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Owen Shunkwiler and POET Biorefining - Coon Rapids
by Sara Eiesland

In grade school, Owen Shunkwiler enjoyed spending his summers on his grandfather’s farm near Billings, Montana. Later, in high school and college, he connected most with the recreational opportunities and ranching communities of western Montana.

Shunkwiler’s enthusiasm for rural living and for community has augmented his leadership role as the general manager of POET Biorefining in Coon Rapids, Iowa. From growing up in the Montana fields to managing an ever-changing plant in a growing community, Shunkwiler has enjoyed life in the ethanol industry and in the city of Coon Rapids.

Leadership in agriculture, community

Because of his connection to the attitudes and lifestyle of farmers, Shunkwiler’s focused energy aids him in managing a continuously growing ethanol plant.

“Growing up in Montana with a background in row crop and livestock gave me an appreciation for the people and families who shape the growth of rural communities,” Shunkwiler said.

After graduating from Montana State University in Bozeman in 1979, he began his career in the agriculture industry.

“After leading and managing country elevator teams in Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, and Texas, I was intrigued by the opportunity of a growing ethanol industry,” Shunkwiler explained.

With ethanol gaining public and financial support, he began his involvement with the industry.

“POET, formerly Broin Companies, was building their first dry mill ethanol plant in Iowa, and I had the good fortune to be selected to lead the team at Coon Rapids,” Shunkwiler said.

Tim Voegele, Vice President of Regional Operations at POET Plant Management, notes Shunkwiler’s neighborly outlook and personable demeanor.

“Owen is a very participative and people-oriented manager,” Voegele saud. “In a nutshell, Owen would make a great neighbor and friend. His personality is one of placing others first and then supporting them as much as he can.”

Shunkwiler also notes the value of being involved in the community and as a member of various service organizations.

“Experiencing ag business in various communities has given me the opportunity to participate in service organizations like Rotary and Lions Club,” he said. “Our family has also met many wonderful people through our children’s school and church activities.”

It is to these experiences Shunkwiler attributes his strength as an arranger, a person who helps a group designate resources for maximum productivity, and also his ability to focus strengths as a way to stimulate excellence for the group and the people in it.

“I like to display a positive team outlook and exhibit the personal characteristics of respect and dignity in every endeavor,” Shunkwiler said. “Every day I seek to be a great resource for the team.”

Howard Roe, treasurer of the Board of Directors at POET-Coon Rapids, remarks on Shunkwiler’s management style.

“ Owen is the type of manager every employee and employer would like to have ,” Roe said. “He is steady, always calm, gives you his full attention when visiting with you, always gives you a response that has been well thought out, and if he doesn't know the answer, he will find out and follow up. He is definitely the right man in the right job.”

POET Biorefining – Coon Rapids

POET Biorefining, located just outside of Coon Rapids, Iowa, is a 52 million gallon per year producer of fuel grade ethanol. This value-added project represents a million dollar investment of farmer-owners. POET-Coon Rapids began operations in August of 2002.

Voegele describes POET as a corporation that strives at length to give its General Managers the support and allow them the autonomy to manage their business effectively. He credits Shunkwiler’s personable manner as an asset when interacting with the people and the businesses who Shunkwiler meets outside of the Coon Rapids property line.

“Through our three company cultural directives of Teamwork, Communication, and Attitude, POET has worked diligently to provide each of our General Managers the environment where they can direct and manage the facility and its employees as effectively as anyone in the industry,” Voegele said. “Our General Managers, including Owen Shunkwiler, are very well equipped to recognize the opportunities that are presented to them within this very dynamic biorefining marketplace.”

The Coon Rapids plant has partnered with the city on something they see as mutual responsibility – public safety. The ethanol producer has provided the local fire department with a fire truck equipped with a pump to dispense the type of foam needed to suppress an ethanol fire.

“POET-Coon Rapids felt that we should not be a burden to the city of Coon Rapids fire department, so we assisted them in purchasing a fire truck with foam and water dispensing capabilities,” Roe explained. “We also schedule yearly fire safety outings that help both the plant and the fire department. This has been beneficial to the entire community.”

The plant has conducted these mock emergency drills every year since the plant’s first year of operations in 2002. The drills are held every year with local fire departments, ambulance crews, and county emergency coordinators.

In the last three years, POET-Coon Rapids has advanced its ethanol production by applying POET’s fractionation process, Bfrac, at its facility. Fractionation allows the components of the corn kernel – the fiber, germ, and endosperm – to be available for processing. The endosperm is fermented to create the ethanol, while the fiber and germ are converted in to value-added products, including Dakota Gold HP, Dakota Bran Cake, corn germ meal, and corn oil.

Shunkwiler said that the things his team has learned about POET’S fractionation process will be applicable to the cellulosic biorefinery being constructed in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

“BFrac is a leap forward in biorefining efficiency and proof that POET can do more with a kernel of corn than was ever thought possible,” Shunkwiler said.

“Even better, BFrac reduces overall energy consumption to produce ethanol. That’s more than an improvement on an old process; it represents an entire new biotechnology model that opens new levels of performance in all dimensions of biorefining. In short, it delivers more fuel and more value-added co-products at less expense,” Shunkwiler continued. “That’s creativity from common sense.”

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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industry�s hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanol�s carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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