According to a Reuters article, the corn-based ethanol industry in Nebraska is fighting an ethanol sugar-based ethanol plant over its feedstock. The Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings plant re-opened its Aurora, Nebraska ethanol plant back in May 2014. However, the plant, located in corn country, is reportedly using sugar from sugar beets to produce ethanol.
The United States Agricultural Department (USDA) has as program where ethanol plants can purchase cheap beet sugar for use in producing biofuels or biochemicals and Aventine is producing ethanol from this sugar source. Aventine’ use of sugar is the first large-scale production of sugar alcohol in Nebraska since the Prohibition.
However, local corn farmers have sued Aventine claiming their use of sugar violates an agreement to use their grain exclusively as a feedstock for ethanol production. Aventine denies any wrongdoing, saying it has abided by its contract.
George Hohwieler, president and chief executive of the Aurora Cooperative Elevator Co., was quoted in the article as saying, “Hamilton County, Nebraska, by any measure is one of the most productive corn-producing counties in the world,” he said. “The message being sent to the marketplace is that they’re making ethanol out of sugar.”
Aventine chief executive Mark Beemer was quoted as saying the farmers’ coop was being short sighted in suing the company. “We’ve been very blunt. This is just a very short-term pathway to get the plant open and then convert back to corn ethanol,” he said.
There has been a long-running dispute between Aventine and the Nebraska farmers’ coop. In February, when Aventine received delivery via rail of the sugar, the coop filed suit claiming they were not allowed to use the rail line to receive any feedstock other than corn. The coop also filed suit in 2012 when the plant did not produce its nameplate capacity of 110 million gallons of ethanol per year, costing them $1.7 million.
As the lawsuits and harsh words continue to fly, Aventine argues that using sugar allowed them to re-open the plant, that had been idled for nearly 5 years and bringing jobs back to the area. At this point, Aventine says they have begun bidding to buy corn as an ethanol feedstock but because of the lawsuits, they are not negotiating to buy corn from the Aurora Cooperating Elevator.
As the lawsuits continue, it can only be said in a fight between corn and sugar, no one wins.