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.

Biofuels Leaders Defend RFS

Holding a press conference in advance of the American Petroleum Institute continuing its call to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), representatives of the ethanol and advanced biofuels industry and corn growers defended the law and the fuel.

mess-rfsGrowth Energy CEO Tom Buis said the oil industry is making the same old arguments about ethanol that are simply not true, but he thinks the industry received a good boost over the weekend “when six out of nine of the Republican presidential candidates that came to the Ag Summit expressed support for the RFS.”

National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) first vice president Rob Elliott of Illinois talked about how the facts dispel the perpetual myths about food versus fuel. “Corn prices are now below cost of production … so obviously food prices have not followed a similar path,” he said.

Adam Monroe, president of enzyme producer Novozymes, said if Washington gives in to pressure by the oil industry to weaken the RFS it will keep second generation biofuels from going forward. “It makes it tremendously difficult for us to bring in new investors and spend more money,” he said.

Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen says no matter what ethanol critics say, there is now real world data that shows no detrimental effects have occurred as a result of the RFS and he encouraged reporters to question API. “Ask them to explain the fact that the price of corn is lower than it was when the RFS was passed,” he said, noting also that food price inflation has been lower, the dead zone has gotten smaller, and hunger worldwide has fallen.

Conference Call with Renewable Fuel Industry Leaders

ACE Fly-In Coming Soon

ace14-dc-brianThe American Coalition for Ethanol is holding its 7th annual DC Fly-In, also known as the Biofuels Beltway March, on March 24-25.

ACE executive vice president Brian Jennings says talking to Washington bureaucrats and lawmakers about ethanol is more important than ever. “We’re really going to be focusing on some new members of Congress and educating them on the RFS and E15 in particular,” he said. “There were over 70 new members of Congress elected, and when you look at the current members of Congress, just two in five were in office when RFS2 was enacted back in 2007.”

Members of the ethanol industry who attend the ACE Fly-In hear from members of the administration and discuss many current issues, and then go out in groups to visit members of Congress and their staffs. “Last year we had well over 200 meetings with members of Congress, both sides of the aisle and both houses,” said Jennings, who stressed that they encourage members to “tell their stories” to make an impression.

Jennings says registration is still open for the Fly-In and there is no fee to attend.

Listen to my interview with Brian at the recent National Ethanol Conference: Interview with Brian Jennings, American Coalition for Ethanol

New USDA Report Shows Ethanol Increasing Efficiency

Patriot Renewable Fuels in Annawan, Illinois

Patriot Renewable Fuels in Annawan, Illinois

The amount of corn necessary to make a gallon of ethanol is less than previously believed according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

In today’s monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Report (WASDE), corn use for ethanol production was projected 50 million bushels lower based on the new Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production report recently released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), citing “a higher rate of conversion than previously assumed” as the reasoning for the adjustment.

“What is most remarkable about this supply and demand report is the light it sheds on a topic of great concern to U.S. corn farmers – recognition of the growing efficiencies in the ethanol industry,” said National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Chip Bowling, a Maryland corn farmer. “For many years, we have strongly asserted that the ethanol industry continues to improve and those productivity gains should be taken into consideration. With the simple justification offered for the analysis, USDA made a great step forward in showing its growing appreciation for the advances made in ethanol production and, thus, the ever-increasing benefit it offers Americans.”

While USDA estimates for corn use in ethanol production were lowered by 50 million bushels, the overall drop was partially offset by higher than expected production over the winter months. The demand decline was more than offset by projected increases in demand for corn from the export and feed and residuals markets of 50 million bushels each.

Projected ending stocks were lowered by 50 million bushels in light of the other adjustments. Average farm price estimates were raised by five cents at the midpoint to $3.50 to $3.90 per bushel.

Researchers Combine Biomass, Solar Conversion

Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department

Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have come up with a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion.

In a study published this week in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi and postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha discussed their research to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs).

They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose — a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.

“When we first started this study, we were not sure whether our approach could be really feasible,” Choi says. “However, since we knew that the impact of the study could be high when successful, we decided to invest our time and effort on this new research project at the interface of biomass conversion and solar energy conversion.”

Read more from UMW.

Recovery of China DDGS Market Continues

Patriot Renewable Fuels DDGsEthanol exports from the United States dropped in January and while distillers grains (DDGS) exports were also lower compared to December, the Chinese market for DDGS is showing recovery.

According to Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) vice president Geoff Cooper, U.S. ethanol producers exported 68.7 million gallons of ethanol in January, down 9% from December 2014 and the lowest since September 2014. However, “imports barely registered in January, with only 28,670 gallons coming in from Canada.”

On the DDGS side, exports totaled 708,861 metric tons in January, down 3% from December and still down 22% compared to a year ago. But the good news is that China was the top market for DDGS exports, receiving 24% of the total. Recovery of the Chinese market continues, as January exports to China were 35% above December levels and up dramatically from near zero in November.

RFS in Spotlight at Iowa Ag Summit

iowa-ag-walkerNine potential Republican presidential were asked to address their opinions on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on Saturday. The final score was six in favor, three opposed.

On the plus side were former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Last to speak at the event, Walker said he viewed the RFS as an access issue. “So it’s something I’m willing to go forward on, continuing the Renewable Fuel Standard and pressing the EPA to make sure that there’s certainty in terms of levels set,” said Walker, adding that he would like to see market access issued addressed in the long term and voicing support for blender pumps. “Right now we don’t have a free and open market,” he said. Iowa Ag Summit comments from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

couser-cruzOn the Texas side are former Governor Rick Perry, who sought a waiver from the RFS in 2008 and said it should be left to the states, and Senator Ted Cruz, who said it would “be the easy thing” for him to say he supported the RFS before the Iowa crowd. “But I’ll tell you, people are pretty fed up, I think, with politicians who run around and tell one group one thing, tell another group another thing, and then they go to Washington and they don’t do anything that they said they would do,” said Cruz. He compared the RFS to “corporate welfare” and said the government should not pick winners and losers and said ethanol was a big enough part of the industry that “demand will continue without the federal mandate.”

Cruz is pictured here with Bill Couser, an Iowa cattle producer and ethanol supporter who is co-chairman of America’s Renewable Future (ARF), an Iowa based bipartisan coalition that supported the summit. He invited both Cruz and Perry to visit his operation in Nevada.

“Show them why we do this, how we do this, and say what do you think?” said Couser in an interview at the recent National Ethanol Conference. “I can say, let’s go look at a corn field, let’s go look at a feedlot, let’s go look at some windmills, let’s go look at Lincolnway Energy, and then let’s go to the DuPont plant right next door and I’ll show you what we’re doing with the whole plant and being sustainable.”

Couser says they plan to approach all potential presidential candidates individually and invite them to visit and learn more about agriculture and renewable energy, including Hillary Clinton. “Wouldn’t that be something if she showed up?” he said.

Listen to my interview with Bill here: Interview with Bill Couser, America's Renewable Future Co-Chair

Also opposed to the RFS is former New York Gov. George Pataki, who “supports ethanol”, but honestly doesn’t think “the federal government should require anybody in America to buy anything, whether it’s renewable fuel or Obamacare” and thinks the RFS should be “phased out.”

Leno Anti Ethanol Rant Raises Eyebrows

Former Tonight Show host, comedian, and car enthusiast Jay Leno is being taken to task by automotive experts for a harshly-worded, negative article in AutoWeek entitled “Can’t We Just Get Rid of Ethanol?”

The thrust of the article is to support reform or elimination of the Renewable Fuel Standard and even attacks farmers.

I just don’t see the need for ethanol. I understand the theory—these giant agri-business companies can process corn, add the resulting blend to gasoline and we’ll be using and importing less gasoline. But they say this diversion of the corn supply is negatively affecting food prices, and the ethanol-spiked gas we’re forced to buy is really awful. The big growers of corn have sold us a bill of goods.

leno-e85-corvetteLeno has been a long-time supporter of renewable fuels. This picture from an April 2008 Popular Mechanics article written by Leno shows him with a 2006 Corvette Z06 that he said “has a top speed of 208 mph and runs on a homegrown alternative to gasoline – cleaner-burning E85 ethanol.”

In this interview with DomesticFuel in 2007, Leno talks about biodiesel specifically but all renewable fuels in general about being good for America and agriculture. “We try to support companies that make products here in America,” he said. “To me, it’s a great thing to see people no longer losing their farms because they can’t make a crop that’s viable anymore …you support the farmers, they watch my TV show, I buy their products.” 2007 Interview with Jay Leno on Renewable Fuels

Syndicated car show host and technician Bobby Likis thinks Leno’s article seems uncharacteristic. “I cannot believe “what Jay said” is “what Jay really believes.” His words smack of otherwise invested horse-whisperers who use personal agendas to sway vulnerable-for-whatever-reason people towards their way,” says Likis in an editorial for the E-xchange Blog refuting all of Leno’s claims.

Bob Reynolds, president of Downstream Alternatives and automotive engine specialist, particularly countered Leno’s claims that ethanol causes corrosion in vintage cars. Reynolds cited a study by Hagerty Insurance and Kettering University’s Advanced Engine Research Lab that concluded “with minor updates and proper maintenance E10 will not prevent the ability to enjoy your collector car.”

Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen commented on Leno’s apparent biofuels about-face. “Will the real Jay Leno please stand up?,” said Dinneen. “Unfortunately, it appears Leno has fallen victim to the relentless barrage of myths and misinformation about ethanol and classic cars coming from all of the usual suspects.”

Iowa Governor Visits Golden Grain Energy

gge-branstadGolden Grain Energy officials and employees had the opportunity to thank Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for his support of ethanol when he paid a visit to the plant in Mason City on Wednesday.

“Governor Branstad has always been very supportive of the plant and the industry as a whole. It means a lot to be able to have the governor here in person to give a pat on the back to all of the people who have worked hard to help us reach the billion gallon production mark,” said Dave Sovereign, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Golden Grain Energy.

Governor Branstad toured the plant as to mark Golden Grain Energy’s recent production milestone of producing one billion gallons of corn ethanol.

“The backing and support from the governor’s office and from the local community helps us go a long way as we work towards producing another billion gallons of ethanol,” said Sovereign.

For his part, Governor Branstad had a photo posted on his Facebook page with – “Golden Grain ethanol just produced their BILLIONTH gallon of ethanol. To celebrate, the governor visited and got one of their t-shirts. “Keep calm and fuel on” ‪#‎iagov‬”

Vilsack Stresses RFS Support at #Classic15

classic15-vilsack-1Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to over 7000 agricultural producers and industry members during his 6th appearance at Commodity Classic on Friday. Sec. Vilsack began by stating that he “was in the presence of greatness” and went on to thank farmers for all that they do on a daily basis. He also thanked farmers for their work on the Farm Bill when it came to grassroots support and involvement in motivating legislation.

Among the many issues Vilsack addressed was the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “There are a multitude of positives about this industry,” said Vilsack, who addressed members of Growth Energy on Thursday. “I’m going to educate my friends at EPA about the importance of this industry.”

classic15-vilsack-rfaThe secretary was applauded when he spoke adamantly in support of biofuels. “There’s a good news story here,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to tell America this is a good, solid industry.”

Strolling through Commodity Classic trade show after his address, Secretary Vilsack stopped by a few booths, including the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) where he picked up a couple of E15 VW bug stress balls for his grandchildren.

Listen to Secretary Vilsack’s complete remarks about biofuels here: Vilsack Addresses Commodity Classic - Biofuels Comments

2015 Commodity Classic Photo Album

Coverage of Commodity Classic sponsored by
Coverage of Commodity Classic sponsored by BASF Coverage of Commodity Classic sponsored by New Holland Coverage of Commodity Classic sponsored by Propane Education and Research Council

Growth Energy Holds 6th Leadership Conference

growth-energy-logoGrowth Energy held its sixth annual Executive Leadership Conference last week in Phoenix, featuring appearances by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative Darci Vetter.

Growth Energy Board of Directors co-chair Jeff Broin delivered a “Chairman’s Report” outlining the current state of the renewable fuels industry and how this year is all about “moving ahead and moving faster” to bring clean, homegrown fuels to the American consumer. Broin noted how 2014 was a historic year for our industry, stating that producers have been selling a “clean, green, high octane, homegrown product at a huge discount.”

In his report to the leadership, CEO Tom Buis highlighted the accomplishments of the industry this past year. Buis stated, “We have always faced challenges, that’s life, but we focused on growing demand for our product. We have doubled the number of retailers offering E15 this past year, it’s only a matter of time before 2015 becomes the year of E15.” He explained that E15 is the “low hanging fruit” we have to promote and get into the marketplace.

“We all know that this is a battle – one over market share, and one that will not be accomplished overnight,” Buis concluded. “The facts are on our side and regardless of the challenges; we are going to win this fight.”

Rail Issues Panel at #NEC15

nec15-rail-panelThe last but certainly not least panel at the 2015 National Ethanol Conference dealt with the timely issue of rail transportation and how safety and congestion are impacting the marketplace.

Renewable Fuels Association Director of Regulatory Affairs Kelly Davis moderated the panel which featured Dana Lewis with Redfield Energy, Todd Tranausky with Argus Media, and Rail Supply Institute president Tom Simpson.

Davis told those gathered for the session that railroad are critical for the ethanol industry, moving 70 percent of all ethanol to its customers. It’s also a safe way to ship the renewable fuel, with 99.94 percent arriving to their destinations safely. But if rail cars aren’t available, there are consequences for the entire industry.

Lewis said her South Dakota-based company was one of those who felt those consequences of not having returning rail cars. That served as an unwelcome driver for Redfield, ultimately deciding how much ethanol they could produce because of the shipping issues, cutting into the company’s income and not being able to sell ethanol ahead of time because they couldn’t rely on being able to ship the green fuel. Adding insult to injury, many rail cars were siphoned off to the non-renewable petroleum industry in neighboring North Dakota. “Ethanol producers were further down the totem pole.”

Tranausky said that ethanol seems to be treated as a second class citizen when compared to other commodities, including oil. Ethanol-loaded cars wait longer and are relegated to older tankers that might not hold the volume that would keep more ethanol in the supply chain. Simpson explained that the rail industry has issues of its own, with a backlog of freight cars equivalent to nearly 10 percent of the fleet and more awaiting safety re-certifications.

Listen to the entire panel session here: NEC15 Rail Transportation Panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Biofuels and Ag Groups Protest Anti-RFS Bill

mess-rfs U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today introduced legislation that would abolish the corn ethanol mandate in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as a co-sponsor. The move was immediately criticized by both ethanol and agricultural organizations.

“Senators Feinstein and Toomey continue to operate under the misguided assumption that the RFS is driving food prices higher” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen. “It is not. Corn is less expensive today than when the RFS was passed! As the World Bank recently concluded, ‘most of the contribution to food price changes from 1997-2004 and 2005-2012 comes from the price of oil.’”

“Just like their previous failed attempt, this legislation is incredibly shortsighted,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Nearly identical legislation has been introduced in the past and has always failed to gain any traction since a majority of senators understand the importance of homegrown, American renewable fuels. This bill would eviscerate the RFS – the most successful energy policy enacted in the last 40 years.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson says the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act would “cripple rural America’s economy and be an enormous step backwards for America’s goal of energy independence by a decade or more.”

National Corn Growers Association
board member Keith Alverson of South Dakota added that Congress should not turn its back on success with renewable fuels. “The Renewable Fuel Standard is working,” said Alverson. “With a second consecutive record crop, there is more than enough corn to meet all demands for food, fuel, feed, and fiber. Corn farmers have more than met our commitment on the RFS. There are many good reasons to continue this policy, and we look forward to working with Congress to support it.”

Fuels America held a telephone press conference to discuss the legislation on Thursday with Dinneen, Alverson, POET’s Jeff Lautt, BIO’s Brent Erickson, and Advanced Ethanol Council’s Brooke Coleman. Listen or download here: Fuels America press conference on Toomey-Feinstein bill

Mycogen Seeds Joins Growth Energy

growth-energy-logoMycogen Seeds, the national retail seed company of Dow AgroSciences, has joined Growth Energy as a premiere associate member.

“We applaud Mycogen Seeds for recognizing the role ethanol plays in strengthening American agriculture and for supporting our nation’s homegrown food, feed and fuel solution,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Ethanol is fueling our future by creating jobs, improving the environment and increasing our nation’s energy independence, while also providing consumers with a choice and savings at the pump. We look forward to collaborating with Mycogen Seeds, a leader in seed innovation.”

mycogen-seeds-logoDamon Palmer, marketing director for Dow AgroSciences’ U.S. seed business, commended the partnership. “Our support of Growth Energy will help promote the importance of a strong ethanol industry for U.S. farmers. It’s about partnering with others in the Agriculture industry to develop markets for today and the future.

Mycogen Seeds’ partnership with Growth Energy supports ethanol as a market option vital to corn growers throughout the U.S.

#NEC15 Travels Road Ahead for Higher Blends

nec15-robert-panelThe National Ethanol Conference featured a panel addressing the road ahead for higher blends.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) vice president for industry relations Robert White moderated the panel, which included Kristi Moriarty, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; John Eichberger, National Association of Convenience Stores; and Brian West with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“In the past, there was a lot of interest in the number of stations that offered E85 versus the volume. The number we’re looking for today is much different. It’s how many gallons are sold,” said White, pointing out that while some stations in lower populations might be going away, there are more stations going up in higher populations area, where more flex-fuel vehicles are available, pushing up the overall amount of higher blends sold.

Moriarty said their long-term studies on E10 show how the green fuel has not damaged equipment and should serve as an example of how E15 would also be fine. She also encouraged those in attendance to have some empathy for retailers, some who still have to meet the oil companies’ gasoline sales requirements, which ethanol can cut into. Eichberger, who comes from that retail perspective, said his group found the number of E85 pumps in the U.S. has increased 14 percent annually every year since 2007. And he said with fewer flex-fuel friendly stations available per each flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) as compared to those for regular fueled vehicles, more E85 pumps are certainly in the picture.

“There’s a lot of room for growth,” pointing out that while there is a 32-billion-gallon potential market for E85 (if all FFVs fueled at 100 percent), a more realistic goal is getting all the E85 stations by 2025 to sell at what the top 10 percent is selling now, making for a 4.5-billion-gallon E85 market.

West pointed out how good of an octane booster ethanol is and added that it is easier to get in a mid-level blend pump, such as E25, than it is to put in the infrastructure for a hydrogen-based pump.

White sent attendees off with a little job to do: talk to retailers about the benefits of selling ethanol, especially the higher blends.

“Talk to one retailer and ask them [to sell a higher blend],” said White. “Everyone in this industry needs to help the growth of this industry.”

Listen to more of this conversation here: NEC 15 Higher Blends panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Brazilian Ethanol Outlook at #NEC15

nec15-wagnerAt the 2015 National Ethanol Conference last week, the senior economist with a leading global agribusiness consultancy gave his competitive outlook of the Brazilian ethanol sector relative to the United States.

Owen Wagner with LMC International told the group gathered that while the last 40 years in general have been good to Brazilian ethanol, the industry there has had a sharp reversal of fortune the last couple of years. While in the early part of the 2000s, a favorable market led to 65 new mills being put into commission, flat prices for Brazilian ethanol and lower gasoline prices the last couple of years, led to 27 of those 65 plants shuttering between 2012 and 2014. In addition, with fewer exports going to the U.S. (dropping from 75 percent of Brazil’s exports to less than half now), partially due to the uncertainty with the Renewable Fuels Standard and cheaper corn ethanol in America, have really hit the industry hard. But what’s bad for Brazil seems to be helping producers in the U.S.

“The obvious move for refiners is to go with the cheaper product – corn ethanol from the U.S. What we’re forecasting [considering a poor sugarcane crop this year and tight ethanol supplies there], we see something like 220 million gallons per year [being exported from the U.S. to Brazil],” he said.

But Wagner said U.S. producers must be cautious because any higher amounts of exports of U.S. ethanol to Brazil could force that country’s government to take corrective action.

Listen to Wagner’s complete analysis here: Owen Wagner, LMC International

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album