Green Plains Inc. said Monday that it plans to increase its ethanol production by 20 percent, saying it has agreed to buy three plants from bankrupt Spanish producer Abengoa to increase its access to burgeoning export markets for the corn-based motor fuel.

The Omaha-based ethanol producer said in a statement that it is the successful bidder in bankruptcy proceedings for Abengoa plants in York, Nebraska; Mount Vernon, Indiana; and Madison, Illinois.

The acquisitions, for $237 million, will bring the employer of about 160 people in Omaha to about 1.5 billion gallons a year in production of the motor fuel and motor-fuel additive.

The Indiana and Illinois plants give Green Plains easy access to barge transportation on the Mississippi River and export via a terminal the company plans to build in Beaumont, Texas.

U.S. ethanol exports rose 33 percent from 2011 through 2015. While the exports can be volatile depending on weather and corn and sugar cane harvests in Brazil and Asia, Green Plains has said overseas will be a growing market for U.S. production.

“The Madison and Mount Vernon plants will give us access to the Mississippi River, supporting our new export terminal planned in Beaumont, Texas,” Green Plains Chief Executive Todd Becker said in a statement.

Already the fourth-largest U.S. ethanol producer, Green Plains is a member of the Fortune 1000, about $2 billion short in revenue of making the Fortune 500 last year, with about $3 billion in sales.

Of course, much depends on the price of ethanol, mostly made by distilling corn. As of last month the price of ethanol was $1.64 a gallon, a little more than half the recent high of $3 a gallon, in 2011.

Green Plains, with 17 plants nationwide, had net income last year of about $7 million on the tumbling prices, down from about $160 million in 2014.

Abengoa is a Spanish renewable energy company whose U.S. unit, which included plants in York and Ravenna, Nebraska, filed for bankruptcy protection this year.

The acquisition was announced after the close of Nasdaq trading. Shares of Green Plains have risen about 2 percent so far this year, to $23.44 Monday, after having fallen as low as about $13.

Nebraska is the United States’ second-largest ethanol producer, behind Iowa.

Contact the writer: 402-444-3133, russell.hubbard@owh.com

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