Some businesses exist for the profit. POET operates for the cause. The sustainable energy leader has been rolling out biofuels and renewable alternative product solutions for more than 30 years. Certainly, running a profitable operation is important to CEO and Founder Jeff Broin, but what really drives him is a genuine desire to change the world.
The call for using biofuels instead of fossil fuels grows louder in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the largest producer of biofuels in the world, POET is working to improve air quality and reverse climate change.
The company’s story begins in 1987 in Scotland, South Dakota, where Broin, fresh out of college, purchased a bankrupt plant with his family. In its first year, it produced 1 million gallons of ethanol and employed 13 people. Today, POET produces 2 billion gallons of biofuel annually with a team of 2,000 and operates 28 ethanol plants throughout the Midwest.
A MISSION-FIRST CULTURE
POET’s latest innovation, JIVE, is an eco-friendly, renewable asphalt component derived from a proprietary process. It is a greener, more cost-effective replacement for petroleum products currently used in the same application. This solution earned POET the No. 3 spot on the Fast Company’s 2019 Most Innovative Companies list in the transportation category. POET also leads the way in cellulosic ethanol production with a first-of-its-kind plant that converts biowaste into ethanol. The POET team has been working on this process since 2000, and Broin predicts it will be ready for commercialization soon.
POET invests heavily in research and technology so it can continue to discover ways to produce green energy and bioproducts. New ideas come from everyone—not just the research and market development teams. The company attracts “passionate, tenacious” people who believe in the sanctity of renewable resources, Broin says. “People have relocated from all over the country to work in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They tell me it’s because of our mission. Our products change the world. That is a real motivator for our team members.”
FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE ABOVE GROUND
Having grown up on a farm, Broin understands agriculture and is passionate about improving the lives of farmers worldwide. As demand for biofuels increases, the value of the crops used to make biofuels increases, too—a good thing for the farmers who sell them. Furthermore, coproducts of biofuel production—protein, oils, and micronutrients—can be monetized. For example, with POET’s production of biofuel comes 10 billion pounds of high-protein animal feed annually. In addition, 500 million pounds of corn oil—another co-product—is sold to biodiesel producers.
Most people don’t realize that ethanol has the potential to replace toxic hydrocarbons, the chief components of petroleum, Broin says. Embracing biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels will make an enormous impact on the environment and worldwide health. He sees the biorefineries that POET is building as a replacement for oil refineries. Challenging the petroleum industry makes for a David-and-Goliath-type battle, but POET is making inroads and Broin plays an active role in Washington. POET’s leadership helped pave the way to replace 10 percent of the U.S. gas supply with biofuels. More recently, decades of hard work is allowing the biofuels industry to cut through bureaucratic red tape, giving American consumers year-round access to 15 percent biofuel blends by this summer.
With hard work and innovation, talent and tons of heart, POET has established itself as a leader in the sustainable energy industry. But the key to its success is its mission: to change the world by replacing petroleum with environmentally-responsible, renewable resources.