The roughly $375 million Platinum Crush soybean processing plant in Alta is on track to be up-and-running this coming spring, CEO Erik Lightner told The Journal this week.

Pre-commissioning of the plant — the steps and processes to get ready for full startup, and the establishment of electric and gas connections — is expected to begin in January. The target startup date is April 30, and the plant should be at capacity within two weeks, Lightner said.

The plant, on Highway 7 on the outskirts between Alta and Storm Lake, will have a nameplate capacity of 38.5 million bushels of soybeans per year, or 110,000 bushels daily; in a year, the plant has the capacity to turn out 450 million pounds of crude soybean oil, 847,000 tons of soybean meal and 77,000 tons of pelleted soybean hulls.

"We're confident that we will have the ability to process more than that, but that is the listed capacity," Lightner said. Platinum Crush has almost a million bushels in storage already, he added.

The state-of-the-art plant is being financed by a group of investors whom Lightner declined to identify, other than to say "they're Iowans" who have backgrounds in agriculture, and that "they're the right people doing the right thing at the right time."

Eleven employees have already been hired, including a plant manager who was brought on board this week; in all the plant will likely employ 55-65 people, Lightner said, in roles including maintenance technicians, process operators and team leaders. Process operators are expected to need eight to 12 weeks of job training, while other roles might need six to eight weeks of training.

"We should be, by the end of March, up to 80-90% fully staffed," said Lightner, who became CEO earlier this year.

Platinum Crush officials expect the plant will draw soybean crops from a radius of roughly 50 to 75 miles, Lightner said. But because the state-of-the-art plant will be such a speedy operation — a truck of soybeans can be completely emptied "within 40 seconds," Lightner said — it's possible that more-distant farmers might be tempted to send their beans there.

"Many co-ops, many processors, they just don't have the ability to receive and to move beans that fast," Lightner said. "We've had a lot of very positive comments, of just how quickly we can bring trucks in, get them unloaded, and get them back on the way. Because, nobody wants a combine sitting there waiting on a truck."

The plant is sprawled out on 40 to 60 acres, though in total the plant controls a 440-acre parcel, Lightner said. The additional acreage would give the plant the opportunity to expand in the future.

The products of the plant will find their way to various end-uses, among them food, livestock fodder and biodiesel.

"Right now there's a huge demand domestically, for soybean oil — vegetable oils in general, soy oil specifically -- for the renewable diesel market," Lightner said. "Our products can go to the Gulf Coast, where there's big petrochemical refiners, they can go to the West Coast, they can go, really, to the East Coast."

Some of the plant's soy products will be exported, while others will find a market locally, particularly as livestock fodder.

"We're really excited about the concentration of feed mills, integrators, in this Northwest Iowa area," Lightner said.

By Mason Dockter