We believe risk management is a core competency of ours. Our primary focus is to lock in favorable operating margins whenever possible. We do not speculate on general price movements by taking unhedged positions on commodities such as corn, ethanol or natural gas. Our comprehensive risk management platform allows us to monitor real-time commodity price risk exposure at each of our plants, and to respond quickly to lock in acceptable margins or to temporarily reduce production levels at our ethanol plants during periods of compressed margins. By using a variety of risk management tools and hedging strategies, including our internally-developed real-time operating margin management system, we believe we are able to maintain a disciplined approach to risk management.
All of our plants are staffed by experienced industry personnel. We focus on incremental operational improvements to enhance overall production efficiencies and we share operational knowledge across our plants. Using real-time production data and control systems, we continually monitor our plants in an effort to optimize performance. We believe our ability to improve operating efficiencies provides an operating cost advantage over most of our competitors. In turn, we believe we are well positioned to increase operating margins for any facilities that we may acquire in the future.
Our senior management team averages over 22 years of commodity risk management and related industry experience. We have specific expertise across all aspects of the ethanol supply, production, and distribution chain—from agribusiness, to plant operations and management, to commodity markets and risk management, to ethanol marketing.
We intend to continue our focus on strengthening and diversifying our vertically-integrated platform by implementing or further acting upon the following growth strategies:
We continue to focus on the potential acquisition of additional ethanol plants. In the past several years, we have been approached with opportunities to acquire existing ethanol plants. We believe those plants were available for a number of reasons including financial distress of a particular facility, a lack of operational expertise or a desire by existing owners to exit their original investment. We take a disciplined approach in evaluating new opportunities by considering whether the plants fit within the design, engineering and geographic criteria we have developed. We acquired one additional ethanol plant during 2011 that met our criteria. We believe that our integrated platform, plant operations experience and disciplined risk management approach give us the ability to generate favorable returns from our acquisitions.
We seek to enhance profitability at each of our plants by increasing our production volumes through operational improvements. We continually research operational processes that may increase our efficiency by increasing yields, lowering our processing cost per gallon and increasing our production volumes. Additionally, we employ an extensive cost control system at each of our plants to continuously monitor our plants’ performance. We are able to use performance data from our plants to develop strategies for cost reduction and efficiency that can be applied across our platform.
We plan to continue our investment in the BioProcess Algae joint venture, which is focused on commercialization of advanced photo-bioreactor technologies for the growing and harvesting of algal biomass which can be used as high-quality, low-cost feedstocks for human nutrition, animal feed and biofuels. We believe this technology has specific applications with facilities that emit carbon dioxide, including ethanol plants. Algae are currently grown in BioProcess Algae’s Grower HarvesterTM reactors co-located with our Shenandoah, Iowa ethanol plant.