Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy (SIRE) made headlines last year for hosting tours and events for multiple political figures, including Congresswoman Cindy Axne, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig-- and even President Donald Trump. A leader in the ethanol industry, SIRE earned the “2020 Industry Award” for its important role that it played in setting the stage for ethanol leadership at the national level.
Now, SIRE is making headlines again for its role in combating COVID-19. “SIREtizer” is a self-branded hand sanitizer that is being produced and bottled onsite at their facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa. From there, it will continue to make its way across southwestern Iowa and eventually throughout the state and across the Midwest.
SIRE Regulatory Manager Justin Schultz serves on the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors, which is where he was able to gain real-time information regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the community. It was at a board meeting where was made aware that local hospitals were running out of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer. Since then, he has worked closely with local, state and federal offices to obtain a conditional-use permit that allowed SIRE to begin legally producing hand sanitizer. “The impact of the COVID-19 situation became ‘real’ to us at SIRE and it sparked the conversation between [SIRE Plant Engineer] Eric Dreessen and me to find a way to do something about it.”
A plan was quickly put into action. As a trained chemical engineer, Dreessen was able to follow the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recipe and designed a process that features an “outdoor factory” and an indoor bottling site where SIRE employees are able to bottle 500 – 1,000 gallons in a 24-hour period. Because SIRE’s fuel ethanol production has been scaled back due to market interruptions caused by COVID-19, many members of SIRE’s staff were able to transition their roles to work on the SIREtizer project.
SIRE CEO Mike Jerke says that the success of the project is due to the hard work and dedication of SIRE’s staff. “I am very proud of our whole team. We’ve asked them to adjust work schedules in order to provide more isolation. We’ve asked them to help us think outside the box during this unprecedented period. We’ve asked them to help with the SIREtizer project. They’ve stepped up every time.”
The team at SIRE also formed a business model that allowed them to maintain the production process and provide much-needed product to their local communities. They’ve partnered with local restaurants and bars that provide takeout food to provide the brick and mortar locations for members of the community to purchase hand sanitizer. The restaurants take a portion of the profits and the rest of the sale goes back to SIRE to create a funding source for SIRE to donate SIREtizer directly to the Omaha/Council Bluffs Metro Area hospitals. SIRE is also forming partnerships with other organizations to provide larger quantities to government offices and businesses in the area and a bottling company and distribution networks that allow them to reach beyond their local community.
The county contract that was formed as a result of the SIREtizer project has enabled the product to reach rural communities and volunteer fire departments that otherwise would never have been able to purchase hand sanitizer. Schultz is also in the process of forming a contract with the state which will allow SIREtizer to reach other first-responders across Iowa.
According to Schultz, the SIREtizer project has done more for the community than to help fight COVID-19. “The whole SIREtizer project is just one small way our company can give back to the community in a time of need. SIREtizer has restored some hope to many of our front-line workers that are dealing with COVID-19 first-hand.”
In addition to SIREtizer, SIRE has donated ethanol to Iowa Prison Industries who has utilized ethanol donations from across the state to produce and donate 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to priority locations such as veteran’s homes and childcare facilities.