About Cindy Zimmerman

Cindy has been reporting about agricultural topics since 1980 when she graduated with a degree in broadcasting from the University of Florida. She is an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters and 1991 Oscar in Agriculture winner. She and her husband Chuck started ZimmComm New Media in 2003. They have three beautiful daughters and live near white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida.

Happy Anniversary RFS!

rfs-7Friday marks the seventh anniversary of the signing into law of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) which expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as we know it today.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has compiled a report that examines the successful impact of the RFS over the past seven years on the economy, job creation, agriculture, the environment, fuel prices, petroleum import dependence, and food prices.

Among its findings, the report notes that “Renewable fuel production and consumption have grown dramatically. Dependence on petroleum—particularly imports—is down significantly. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector have fallen. The value of agricultural products is up appreciably. And communities across the country have benefited from the job creation, increased tax revenue, and heightened household income that stem from the construction and operation of a biorefinery.”

“The RFS was always intended to be a marathon and not a sprint. Results were never intended to come overnight, but over the past seven years America has reaped vast economic, environmental, and national security benefits due to the increased use of home-grown, renewable fuels,” noted RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen. “The only hiccup in the unprecedented success of the program is a consequence of EPA’s recent failure to implement the program as designed by Congress. As we blow out the candle on the RFS’ seventh birthday cake, we do so with a wish that EPA would quickly restore the RFS to a trajectory that will enable continued investment in advanced biofuels, drive the market beyond the blend wall, and provide consumers with meaningful options and savings at the pump.”

Read more from RFA.

Deck Stacked Against Ag and Biofuels in Report

bpcThe Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) appears to be a bit partisan in a new report released this week on “Options for Reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

The report was produced after several meetings during the year with an advisory group that consisted of 23 members, seven of which were oil companies representatives. Only five members of the group represented agriculture or advanced biofuels and biodiesel producers. The rest were a mix of academia (2), big business (4) with two of those representing Toyota, environmental groups (2), and policy organizations (3).

Both of the agriculture representatives were from the National Farmers Union (NFU), president Roger Johnson and vice president of programs Chandler Goule. “It was very important that agriculture that supports the renewable fuels industry be present at the table,” said Goule, who said the meetings were held in a very professional manner. “The problem with the meetings is that they were heavily skewed toward big oil.”

NFUlogoThe report concluded that improvements to the RFS are needed, but did not recommend actual repeal of the law. Goule says NFU has major objections to two of the policy recommendations made in the report. “The flattening of the total renewable fuel mandate at its current level going forward, but continuing to increase the three advanced categories, we have significant concerns about what that would to do ethanol and biodiesel,” he said. “Even more concerning was removing the total renewable fuel mandate and only mandating the three advanced categories. Basically what they are doing is giving in to Big Oil’s conclusion that a blend wall exists, which it does not.”

Chandler talks more about the BPC report in this interview: Interview with Chandler Goule, NFU

Seeds of Cellulosic Ethanol

asta-css-14-dupontLike all good things, cellulosic ethanol starts with the seed.

During a presentation at the American Seed Trade Association CSS 2014 and Seed Expo last week in Chicago, John Pieper with Dupont Industrial Biosciences talked about the importance of seed to the cellulosic ethanol industry. “It has everything to do with seed because it has to do with farming,” he said. “It has to do with making our lands and soils more productive as well as being able to realize the full potential of seed and other crop inputs that we have today that are hindered because of tillage and crop rotation practices.”

Using non-food agricultural products to make ethanol also provides economic benefits for farmers on several levels. “By taking stover and converting it from an agricultural landfill, waste product, into a recycled or used by-product, we get more money back to the farm operation to invest in tools and production practices – and we get a better seed bed for their next crop to be prolific and highly productive,” said Pieper.

Pieper talked about what Dupont is doing in the cellulosic ethanol field. “We’ve been operating a demonstration facility in Vonore, Tennessee for the last four years and for over two years we’ve taken corn stover from central Iowa down to the plant and made transportation fuel-grade ethanol from it,” he said. Now they are preparing to open a commercial facility in Nevada, Iowa next year and Pieper says they were pleased to see Abengoa and POET open their first plants this year. “It’s a very exciting time,” he said, but he does note that stable government policy – including the Renewable Fuel Standard – is key to moving forward in the future.

Listen to my interview with Pieper here: Interview with John Pieper, Dupont Industrial Biosciences


2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album

Senate Passes Tax Extenders

senateFollowing the recent action by the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate on Tuesday evening passed the package of tax incentives for 2014 that will expire once again in just two weeks.

For the renewable energy industry, the legislation includes the second-generation biofuel production tax credit and the accelerated depreciation allowance for cellulosic biomass properties, as well as tax credits for alternative fuel vehicle refueling infrastructure, alternative fuel mixtures, and wind energy and the dollar-per-gallon Biodiesel Tax Incentive.

Renewable Fuels Association
(RFA) president Bob Dinneen says the temporary extensions are a step in the right direction, but called on Congress to provide more certainty in the future. “These incentives can help to level the playing field in a tax code that is overwhelmingly tilted toward incumbent fuels and established oil extraction technologies,” said Dinneen. “Congress should be commended for helping businesses and consumers alike. But next year is a whole new ball game and in order to balance the scales and make future tax incentives truly helpful, Congress must take a good hard look at overarching tax reform legislation.”

Noting the short term nature of the legislation, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said, “With this tax bill, the Congress is turning in its tax homework 11 months late…The legislation accomplishes nothing for 2015.”

The bill now goes to the president who is expected to sign it.

RFA Submits Comments on Animal Feed Rule

RFANewlogoThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday on the supplemental rulemaking proposal outlining best practices for the regulation of animal food under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The act outlines regulations for animal feed, which includes the ethanol co-product dried distillers grain.

RFA submitted comments earlier this year following the initial proposed rule noting that animal feed would be unnecessarily regulated in a similar fashion to human food. RFA praised the FDA for addressing this concern in its updated version, noting that the “revised CGMPs (current good manufacturing processes) in the supplemental proposed rule appear more applicable to the animal feed industry and appear to provide more flexibility for the wide variety of the animal feed facility processes covered.”

However, RFA raised concerns with additions to the rule that would implement “…product and environmental testing programs, supplier approval programs, and verification programs that were not in the initial proposed rule language.” The comments stress that an individual plant “…should be provided the flexibility to determine its own needs and compliance strategy.” RFA also noted that “If applied in a prescriptive and indiscriminate way, these programs can add unnecessary cost burdens and divert resources away from the effective practices that ethanol producers currently use to assure safe, high quality co-products.”

Read RFA comments here.

Biofuels Economic Outlook

asta-css-14-basseBack again by popular demand this year at the American Seed Trade Association CSS 2014 and Seed Expo was AgResource Company president Dan Basse giving his economic outlook for the year ahead.

Basse told attendees that the biofuels market is mature now, which means more stagnant demand for corn. “We have an EPA that can’t even make a decision on what the mandate should have been for 2014 and surely can’t make one for 2015,” he said. “We’ll still see corn demand for ethanol somewhere in the vicinity of five billion bushels, but there’s not that growth engine we’ve had in the last five years.”

Basse notes that this crop year is historic in that it’s the first time we’ve seen record world production for corn, wheat and soybeans. “So something agronomically is afoot here,” he said. “World producers are starting to pick up on some of the traits that American farmers are using – whether more seeds per acre, better seeds, better fertilizer…we’re not sure what it is but we’re impressed what the world is producing for grain.”

Lots more in this interview with Basse here. Interview with Dan Basse, Ag Resources

New Iowa RFA Officers

IowaRFAlogoThe Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) today announced its Board of Directors, Officers and Executive Committee for 2015, elected at last week’s annual meeting. New officers will serve a one-year term during the 2015 calendar year.

The new officers are:
President Brian Cahill, Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy
Vice President Tom Brooks, Western Dubuque Biodiesel
Treasurer Eamonn Byrne, Plymouth Energy
Secretary Rick Schwarck, Absolute Energy

“The renewable fuels industry had many accomplishments this past year, but many challenges remain for 2015,” says IRFA President-elect Brian Cahill. “Providing certainty in the marketplace and leveling the energy playing field through the restoration of a strong and growing Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and allowing greater consumer choice at the pump through wider availability of E15 and higher biodiesel blends will be crucial to building upon the progress we’ve made.”

Elected to join the IRFA officers on the executive committee for 2015 are, Past President Steve Bleyl of Green Plains, Inc.; and at-large members Brad Albin of Renewable Energy Group and Craig Willis, Archer Daniels Midland.

EPA Official Testifies About RFS Management

epa-mccabe-hearingEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe testified before a House oversight subcommittee today on the agency’s management of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

“The EPA recognizes that the delay in issuing the 2014 standards has exacerbated uncertainty in the market for both renewable fuel producers and obligated parties,” said McCabe in her prepared remarks. “Issuing rules every year has proven to be a significant implementation challenge, particularly in the last several years as cellulosic biofuels have continued to face challenges in scaling up to commercial production and the fuel pool has become saturated with E10, raising concerns about the E10 blend wall.”

Facing questioning by lawmakers about the delay and EPA’s pledge to get the standards for 2014, 2015 and 2016 released some time next year, McCabe was unable to provide any time frame when that might be accomplished. Subcommittee Chair James Lankford (R-OK) expressed his doubt EPA can get it done. “My concern is that this is going to come out November 30 of 2015 and we’ll literally have two years in a row that we will not have anything,” he said. “It cannot take that long to promulgate a rule.”

Biofuels organizations reacted to McCabe’s testimony. “While it’s important for EPA to put the annual RFS rulemaking process back on schedule, it’s much more important for the Agency to get the RFS right,” said Brian Jennings with the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE). “We look forward to working with EPA to ensure they use their authority to hold oil companies legally responsible for making cleaner and less expensive renewable fuel choices, such as E15 and E85, available to consumers as they issue the final 2014 rule, and RFS proposals for 2015 and 2016.”

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis also stressed the importance of EPA getting the methodology right. “The EPA’s proposed rule was flawed from the beginning. There was no way the methodology in the proposed rule would ever work, as it went against the very purpose and policy goals of the RFS,” said Buis. “Hopefully, the EPA can get back on track, establish certainty among stakeholders and implement the RFS as it was originally envisioned.”

Click here to watch the hearing.

Biofuels Can Help Cut Global Transport GHG Emissions

GRFA1As nations are meeting in Peru for the COP 2014 global conference on climate change, the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA) stressed that biofuels, like ethanol, are one of the most commercially viable methods to reduce transport fuel greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“Nearly a third of global GHGs come from the transportation sector, those GHGs need to be a priority if we are going to make a significant contribution to combating climate change. Biofuels must be an integral part of that fight,” said GRFA spokesperson Bliss Baker.

Since biofuels such as ethanol are proven to reduce harmful GHGs from 40% to 90% compared to fossil fuels around the world, Baker says GRFA believes that policies adopted at COP 2014 must include the increased use of biofuels.

Earlier this year the GRFA forecasted that 2014 global ethanol production would reach 90.38 billion litres and its use worldwide would reduce GHG emissions by over 106 million tonnes globally. (S&T)2 Consultants Inc., an internationally renowned energy and environmental consulting firm, in partnership with the GRFA produced data which showed that these GHG reductions are equal to removing over 21 million cars off the road annually.

“106 million tonnes is a substantial GHG savings, it’s the same as removing the annual emissions from 14 average-sized coal-fired power plants. However, as the IEA has prescribed recently, more biofuels are needed to further reduce the emissions from the global transport sector,” said Baker.

E15 Ordinance Passes Chicago Council Committee

chicago-e15The Windy City moved another step closer to cleaner air with 15% ethanol as the City Council Finance Committee passed the Chicago Clean with E15 Ordinance on Monday. The ordinance would make E15 available as an option to Chicago drivers, and now moves to the full City Council for a hearing on Wednesday.

“I look forward to the full Council vote, and to giving Chicagoans a cleaner, less expensive option,” said co-sponsor Alderman Anthony Beale.

Supporters of the bill delivered a petition with 7,673 signatures to the committee meeting on Monday. “I’m very pleased this ordinance has such strong support within the Council and across Chicago,” Beale added.

Among the organizations supporting the ordinance are the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), Growth Energy, and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). “The city of Chicago has always been a leader when it comes to fuel. It was the first city in the United States to ban lead in gasoline, the first to choose ethanol over MTBE in reformulated gas, and this ordinance would make Chicago the first major city to guarantee drivers the choice of a lower cost, higher octane, clean E15 fuel,” said ACE Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis noted that approval of the ordinance will provide choice for consumers and jobs for the state. “(T)hey have displayed their resolve to ensure that Chicago motorists and other consumers have market access to a sustainable, cleaner burning, less expensive homegrown fuel that supports 73,156 Illinois jobs and generates $4.7 billion for the state’s economy,” said Buis. “By moving to E15, Chicago can help create an additional 12,000 Illinois jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

The ordinance would require all filling stations in the city to provide dispensing pumps and offer mid-grade E15 for sale, with a phase-in period of nearly a year and an exemption for filling stations selling less than 850,000 gallons of fuel per year.

Pacific Ag CEO to Speak at BIO Pacific Rim Summit

pacific-agThe CEO and founder of the nation’s largest agricultural residue and forage harvesting business will be discussing biofuel feedstocks on a panel at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit in San Diego this week.

Bill Levy of Oregon-based Pacific Ag will take part in the panel which will explore the realities faced by feedstock producers in today’s marketplace. Panelists will delve into issues in production and logistics, feedstock availability, ability to scale, competing applications for feedstock use, and new markets.

“There are many concerns surrounding the economic feasibility of harvesting biomass for food and fuel. The biggest hurdle of biomass conversion is price and volume predictability,” said Levy of his panel remarks. “What Pacific Ag offers is a sustainable supply at a consistent price necessary for industrial uses of biomass.”

Pacific Ag is leading the biomass harvesting revolution and has been expertly handling biomass logistics for more than 16 years – longer than any other U.S. company. Today, Pacific Ag is the exclusive biomass harvesting and logistics company for Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol plant located in Hugoton, Kansas and is also working with DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol facility expected to go online in early 2015.

The “Feedstocks: A Global Comparison” panel is taking place Tuesday, December 9, at 8:00 am PT during the BIO Pacific Rim Summit.

RFA Wants California to Consider New ILUC Report

RFANewlogoThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is urging the California Air Resource Board (CARB) to adjust its current indirect land use change (ILUC) analysis to better reflect real-world land use patterns.

In written comments submitted on Friday, RFA’s Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper pointed to the recent study released by Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) raising concerns about CARB’s current ILUC predictions. Cooper called on CARB to “take into account the new CARD/ISU research and use it to immediately re-calibrate” the agency’s ILUC model.

Cooper calls the study a “remarkably important—and potentially gamechanging—contribution to the debate over ILUC modeling” which used empirical data to conclude that “…the primary land use change response of the world’s farmers in the last 10 years has been to use available land resources more efficiently rather than to expand the amount of land brought into production.”

RFA’s comments urged CARB to calibrate its ILUC model using the new CARD/ISU analysis as a guide before sending the proposed rule for Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) re-adoption to the Board for consideration. If adjustments are unable to be made before the final proposal is submitted, RFA calls on CARB to “…delay proposing new ILUC factors until such time as the calibration is completed and new ILUC results are generated.”

Read more from RFA here.

Biodiesel Industry Wants Longer Tax Extension

nbb-logoBiodiesel producers are pleased that the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to reinstate the biodiesel tax incentive as part of the tax extenders package passed on Wednesday, but they would prefer a longer term deal to provide more certainty for the industry.

“While we appreciate a one-year extension, we are urging Congress to continue pressing for a longer-term policy that can afford this industry the certainty needed to invest and grow,” said National Biodiesel Board VP of Federal Affairs Anne Steckel. “Biodiesel businesses across the country are poised to expand their operations, hire new workers and build new infrastructure, but we need forward-looking policy.”

She added that the deal passed Thursday is only good until the end of this year, so the biodiesel tax incentive expire once again on January 1,for the fourth time in six years. “It is very difficult to run a business with that kind of uncertainty,” Steckel said.

“The biodiesel incentive is proven to create jobs and economic activity, and it pays tremendous dividends in terms of reducing costly pollution and improving our energy security as well,” said NBB Board Chairman Steven J. Levy, managing director at Sprague Operating Resources. “It is a successful policy that is working so there is no reason to have this kind of perpetual uncertainty.”

The House voted 378-46 Wednesday night to approve HR 5771, setting up a potential Senate vote in the coming days.

E15 Debuts in Sunshine State

Some drivers in the Sunshine State will now have access to 15% ethanol fuel (E15), approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in vehicles 2001 and newer.

protecfuel1In partnership with Protec Fuel, retail stations in Ft. Myers and Sarasota operated by Mid-State Energy are holding kickoff events with substantial discounts on E15 and E85 fuel today to celebrate the new fuel choice for consumers.

Florida-based Protec Fuel helped manage the ethanol blends installation and provide fuel for the locations. “We are proud to help introduce American-made ethanol into the fuel pool through E15 in Florida, especially as it’s a higher performance fuel at 88-octane,” said Protec vice president of business development Steve Walk. “It’s so convenient for drivers to make a difference – you can use E15 interchangeably with gas if you’re driving a 2001 or newer model.”

The Renewable Fuels Association has been working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for more than two years to overcome regulatory barriers that hindered the sale of E15 in Florida. “It is exciting to see E15 continue its expansion to the East Coast and it is my hope that additional states in the South and East that don’t currently offer E15 will follow Florida’s example and begin offering low-cost E15 to their consumers,” said RFA vice president of industry relations Robert White.

The Tampa Bay Clean Cities Coalition is pleased to see the expansion of bio-based fuels in the region. “These fuels can provide a renewable and cleaner fuel option for us now with virtually no additional investment in vehicle modification or infrastructure,” said coordinator Steven Reich. “I hope that more retailers will take advantage of the availability of these fuels in their product mix.” Clean Cities coalitions throughout the nation are charged with reducing the nation’s petroleum usage by the U.S. DOE.