Nebraska Innovation Campus, ethanol partners turning out thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer

By JoAnne Young/Lincoln Journal Star

April 7, 2020

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska Ethanol Board completed their first day of hand sanitizer production Monday to benefit state health care providers and their hospitals, nursing homes and offices.

They anticipate thousands more gallons by week’s end.

The project began in mid-March, when Hunter Flodman, an assistant professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university, heard about shortages of hand sanitizer. To help, he needed to find a way to overcome obstacles fuel-grade ethanol producers were facing, including navigating federal Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Flodman and the ethanol board, where he serves as technical adviser, teamed up to get the FDA to relax those regulations so fuel ethanol producers could provide their product to create hand sanitizer.

Under temporarily relaxed standards, the FDA will allow a plant to provide ethanol, as long as it’s 94.9% alcohol. And the recent federal stimulus package gave temporary relief from an alcohol excise tax that could have resulted in more than $100,000 in taxes on the project.

A partnership with the Food Processing Center on Nebraska Innovation Campus was also key to making it happen.

After the first full day of production, the team is poised to send more than 2,000 gallons of hand sanitizer with 80% alcohol to providers, first responders and other facilities in need.

Nebraska Medicine alone uses up to 132 gallons of hand sanitizer each day, according to CEO James Linder.

Some of Nebraska’s 25 ethanol plants have idled down because of storage problems and the economics of the energy market, said Roger Berry, administrator for the Nebraska Ethanol Board. Several Nebraska ethanol producers are donating their products to hand sanitizer manufacturing efforts.

Green Plains Inc. and KAAPA Ethanol are donating ethanol for the project, while BASF, Cargill and Syngenta are providing other required chemicals. Sapp Bros. is collecting ethanol from the plants, storing it at its facilities and delivering it to Innovation Campus in small batches.

Flodman, Food Processing Center employees and a team of students combine the ingredients and dispense it into 2 1/2-gallon jugs for distribution.

The project required the Food Processing Center to register with the FDA as an over-the-counter drug production facility.

Flodman designed a production model that could produce up to 5,000 gallons a day, if necessary, and if supplies remain available, said Food Processing Center Executive Director Terry Howell.

Some of the Food Processing Center’s national and international clients have not been able to travel to Nebraska to do their work during the coronavirus crisis, so the hand sanitizer production won’t interrupt other work, Howell said.

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