SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Work has begun to update equipment at a northern Indiana ethanol plant that was the state's first large-scale facility when it opened in 1984 and appeared headed to the scrap heap a year ago.

Kansas-based ICM Inc. started to retrofit the facility in southwest South Bend last week, The South Bend Tribune reported Sunday. ICM's affiliate, Energy Management Solutions, will operate the plant when it starts making ethanol again, which is expected in May.

New Energy Corp., which had owned and operated the plant since its opening, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy 13 months ago. Liquidators bought the plant for $2.5 million at a bankruptcy auction in January. Noble Americas Corp., a U.S. subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Noble Group, bought the plant for an undisclosed sum in July. Energy Management Solutions will produce ethanol there under a contract with Noble.

Josh Edwards, the plant's new manager, said 15 contract workers began updating the plant last week, and five former New Energy employees were performing maintenance.

Energy Management Solutions is planning to employ 60 people at the site after production starts. About 320 people applied for those positions last week during job fairs.

The plant will reopen to an ethanol market is looking up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasting a record-high corn harvest this year.

"The market conditions have improved significantly," said Wallace Tyner, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. "They're making a lot of money right now."