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.

Rail Problems Impacting Ethanol Supplies

snow-trainOne impact of the long, cold winter across the nation has been weather-related rail disruptions that are taking a toll on ethanol supplies and production.

The record winter weather patterns that have caused repeated snowstorms have resulted in stalled trains, frozen controls and increased demand for rail cars. All that has made it difficult to move ethanol to the Northeast.

The Energy Information Administration reported last week that stocks of ethanol stood at 15.9, down 2.4% from the previous week, the lowest level of the year so far. Stocks are well below the 20-day supply mark for the second week in a row and on the East Coast stocks of ethanol fell to their lowest level on record last week, at 4.6 million barrels compared to 6.4 million this time last year.

“Naturally, limited regional mobility leads to limited regional supply which can impact prices, but market observers believe this is a temporary situation that will soon be corrected,” said Renewable Fuels Association Executive Vice President Christina Martin.

The backlog in transportation is causing ethanol plants to slow production somewhat. According to EIA data, ethanol production averaged 869,000 barrels per day (36.50 million gallons), down 25,000 barrels from the previous week and the lowest in eight weeks.

The backups have also been delaying grain shipments from last year’s record crop but rail company officials, including BNSF and CSX, say they are working hard to get everything back to normal.

New Budget Would Roll Back Oil Subsidies

2015-budgetThe recently proposed Obama administration Fiscal Year 2015 Budget includes $4 billion a year in cuts to oil industry subsidies, notes Americans United for Change (AUFC), which calls that “a big win for taxpayers and consumers.”

Under the Department of Energy section, the budget calls for elimination of “Unnecessary Fossil Fuel Subsidies” stating that as “the Nation continues to pursue clean energy technologies that will support future economic growth, it should not devote scarce resources to subsidizing the use of fossil fuels produced by some of the largest, most profitable companies in the world.” The proposed budget would repeal “over $4 billion per year in tax subsidies to oil, gas, and other fossil fuel producers.”

americans-change“We are elated that the President has renewed his commitment to doing away with billions of dollars in pointless subsidies for big oil that shortchange investment in cleaner burning, cheaper renewable fuels of the future,” says AUFC executive director Caren Benjamin, adding however that the EPA proposal to cut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) at the same time is inconsistent. “It’s a proposal that runs totally counter to the President’s strategy to address climate change by supporting clean energy — because a weak RFS means less incentive for innovation in cleaner burning, next generation renewable fuels and guarantees a greater use of dirty fossil fuels.”

AUFC also points out that there seems to be some bipartisan consensus building in Congress against special tax treatment for the oil industry. The draft tax reform proposal circulated by Republican House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), for example, would eliminate some of the accounting tactics that allow oil companies to report lower net profits and pay less taxes.

AUFC encourages House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to follow that lead and hold a hearing on “why an industry that made $100 billion in profits last year can’t do without billions of dollars in subsidies every year courtesy of the taxpayers.”

Editorial from Father of Ethanol

merle-andersonThe man who is known as the “Father of Ethanol” in the United States is still busy advocating for the industry at the well-seasoned age of 93.

Merle Anderson, one of the founding members of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), just recently penned an excellent editorial for the Grand Forks Herald about his favorite subject and his observations are just as sharp as ever when it comes to the fuel he has been promoting for decades. Here’s some excerpts his letter entitled “Government ‘myths’ limit ethanol’s full use” that he wrote with input from his friend and fellow ethanol advocate Orrie Swayze from Watertown, S.D.:

First, we must remember that Henry Ford favored E30 for his Model T. After that, what could go wrong, did go wrong as government teamed with oil, and — in a joint effort to keep ethanol out of gasoline markets — created misleading myths that E30 was illegal and would ruin engines…

Merle debunks several of those myths, including that higher ethanol blends void car warranties and that gas station pumps are unable to handle higher blends such as E30. “I really chuckle at that one, because standard gas station pumps were the only pumps available when E85 was introduced nearly 20 years ago, and they still are safely pumping E85.”

Merle concludes – My dream is every American and all of agriculture — including our sugar beet industry — would have access to an ethanol market that is not limited by EPA and big oil’s nonsense or the ethanol blend wall that has been in place since the first Model T was built.

Read Merle Anderson’s entire editorial here
.

Biodiesel Board Pleased with CARB Findings

nbb-advancedThe National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is pleased with the preliminary Indirect Land Use Change (iLUC) values presented by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) at a workshop on Tuesday.

“We applaud the Air Resources Board for recognizing the need to reduce carbon from transportation and fossil fuels to mitigate climate change,” said Don Scott, National Biodiesel Board Director of Sustainability, who was present at the workshop. “Since America’s Advanced Biofuel, biodiesel, is among the most effective tools for carbon reduction this represents a major step forward. We are hopeful the agency will continue on this path to use the best science to quantify the benefits of biodiesel.”

According to NBB, the proposal “recognizes biodiesel’s sustainability and environmental benefits, takes a notable step in the right direction, and will open new avenues for biodiesel use in the state.”

During the workshop, Scott made several comments and observations about the preliminary findings presented by CARB. “I think CARB is on the right track with improving these models to quantify those economic impacts that ripple through the world and impact food production,” he said at one point in the meeting. “The biodiesel industry was not thrilled initially about the idea of indirect land use change because our goals have always been to do what we can domestically without impacting food, either in prices or availability.” But, he says the iLUC models actually show that is true when it comes to biodiesel. Don Scott, NBB comments during CARB Workshop

CARB Stresses ILUC Update is Preliminary

carb-14-2California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff spent four hours on Tuesday afternoon detailing reviews made of Indirect Land Use Change (iLUC) models and analysis for the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), strongly stressing that their results are preliminary.

“This is a work in progress,” said Air Resources Engineer Anil Prabhu as he began his power point presentation detailing the history of the iLUC analysis used by the agency, recommendations by the Expert Work Group (EWG), and much technical scientific information. Staff also stressed repeatedly that CARB is seeking feedback from all stakeholders on the preliminary conclusions presented.

carb-workshopThe 84 slide presentation of details on how CARB arrived at the values they are proposing for corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, soy biodiesel, canola biodiesel and sorghum ethanol was interspersed with dozens of questions from stakeholders and scientists present or listening in on the webcast.

Among those challenging the CARB results several times was Steffen Mueller with the University of Illinois-Chicago and Genscape, a member of the original CARB EWG. “There’s a lot of basic information missing (here) to engage in a productive discussion,” Mueller said, noting that the Agro-Ecological Zone – Emissions Factor (AEZ-EF) model presented was from 2011 and wondering when they would be able to see the updates CARB made to the model. “There’s been a lot of republications since 2011,” he said, to which CARB staff responded it would be updated “probably within the next week or two.”

Much of CARB’s data was presented based on Purdue University’s GTAP (Global Trade Analysis Project) work, including some research done by agricultural economist Wally Tyner, who called in to set the record straight. “What’s been presented today is really CARB’s work and not Purdue’s work,” said Tyner, who mainly called to dispute the Yield Price Elasticity assumptions made in the CARB presentations, which he says is “basically incorrect.” Wally Tyner comments and CARB staff response

Tyner also noted that there “is a lot of uncertainty in emission factors” as well as a great deal in land use change, and that seemed to be the theme of the entire meeting with nearly a quarter of the power point presentation being devoted to “Evaluation of Uncertainty” and “Why Results Vary Between Studies.” While the CARB staff repeatedly reminded those present that they welcomed any new or updated data that could be supplied, it was overwhelmingly clear that there is no scientific consensus whatsoever on the topic of indirect land use change. Continue reading

Ethanol Exports Start 2014 Higher

Exports of U.S. ethanol started 2014 at the highest level seen in over two years.

rfa-annAccording to U.S. Census Bureau data, ethanol exports in January totaled 86 million gallons, which is the highest monthly volume since December 2011. “Exports were up a third from December 2013, while imports remained sparse, meaning the United States was a net ethanol exporter by the widest margin in over two years,” according to Renewable Fuels Association research analyst Ann Lewis, writing on the E-xchange blog.

Brazil was the top customer for U.S. ethanol, beating out Canada for the number one spot, importing nearly 23.9 million gallons, the largest monthly volume to Brazil in two years. Exports to Canada dropped 36% from December to 18.8 million gallons (mg). Rounding out the top destinations were the United Arab Emirates (12.4 mg), India (10.7 mg), the Philippines (5.5 mg), and Mexico (3.3 mg).

Meanwhile, exports of the ethanol co-product distillers dried grains (DDGs) were lower in January, down 9% to 903,827 metric tons (mt). Lewis notes that China was again the leading destination with 344,147 mt. “However, China’s market share scaled back to 38%, in contrast with its majority stake (56%) of U.S. DDGs exports averaged over the second half of 2013,” writes Lewis. Mexico (140,664 mt), South Korea (77,977 mt), Vietnam (48,514 mt), and Japan (44,505 mt) rounded out the top five DDGS markets in January.

POET-DSM Joins Advanced Ethanol Council

aeclogoPOET-DSM Advanced Biofuels is the newest member to join the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC).

“As cellulosic ethanol becomes a growing force in fulfilling biofuel requirements in the U.S., it’s important for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels to work with other industry leaders to help shape policies that ensure consumer understanding of – and access to – its environmental, economic and energy-security benefits,” said Steve Hartig, General Manager – Licensing for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels.

The joint venture between ethanol production company POET and Royal DSM, a Netherlands-based bio science company, is nearing completion of a 25 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol biorefinery called Project LIBERTY, located in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The technology developed for the facility is available for licensing to develop other low-carbon, cellulosic ethanol production plants.

“As a key player in the industry that has the proven know-how to scale up its advanced technology to commercial scale, POET-DSM is a strong, strategic addition to the Council’s ranks as cellulosic ethanol moves from the development stage to full-scale commercial production in 2014,” said Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the AEC.

CARB Considers Small ILUC Change for Ethanol

carb-14-2The California Air Resources Board (CARB) today is proposing potential changes to indirect land use change (iLUC) penalties under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) which some scientists and the ethanol industry say are a start, but don’t go far enough.

Based on a review of materials made available by CARB prior to the workshop, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President and CEO Bob Dinneen said, “CARB appears to be taking a small step in the right direction, but the science shows a much larger reduction to the iLUC penalty for corn ethanol is warranted.”

RFA-logo-13Dinneen notes that a group of 14 well-known scientists, including five members of CARB’s own expert work group, sent a letter to CARB last week recommending that the penalty should be lowered by 50-80 percent, rather than the 20 percent CARB is proposing. “The larger issue here is that in the five years since the LCFS was adopted, there have been no indications that the policy has caused—or will cause—any kind of land use change,” said Dinneen. “Amazon deforestation has fallen to its lowest rate on record, U.S. cropland area continues to shrink, and U.S. forested area continues to increase. All of this suggests the iLUC hypothesis needs to be critically re-evaluated.”

Dinneen believes that California consumers will be negatively impacted if CARB maintains the iLUC penalty for corn ethanol. “Under CARB’s apparent proposal, grain ethanol—the lowest-cost renewable fuel used in the California market today—will ultimately be replaced with higher-priced imported fuel,” said Dinneen.

The CARB workshop on the proposed Indirect Land Use Change values and how they were determined by staff will be webcast today beginning at 1:00 pm Pacific time. During the webcasts, CARB will also be accepting feedback and questions sent via email to sierrarm@calepa.ca.gov.

Iowa Farmers Oppose RFS Changes

iowa-soyA vast majority of Iowa farmers in a recent poll oppose changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

agri-pulseThe Agri-Pulse Farm Opinion Poll, launched last month in partnership with the Iowa Soybean Association, found that 92% of farmers polled oppose the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to lower of the amount of corn-based ethanol and biodiesel required to be blended in the nation’s fuel as part of the RFS.

In addition, almost three out of five farmers responding (58 percent) said that, of several national issues including the Farm Bill, trade, tax codes and immigration, the RFS is most important to the future profitability of their farms.

The poll also found that farmers expect to see weaker financial returns in 2014 and will adjust their expenditures – spending less on fertilizer and equipment but more on crop insurance. The new poll was taken February 23 and included more than 130 Iowa farmers responding to 12 unaided questions.

Ethanol Advocate Honored by Corn Growers

Jere White (center) with his wife Linda and son Robert, honored by NCGA CEO Rick Tolman and president Martin Barbre

Jere White (center) with his wife Linda and son Robert, honored by NCGA CEO Rick Tolman and president Martin Barbre

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) celebrated the long and productive career of an ethanol advocate and industry leader during the recent Commodity Classic.

Jere White is retiring from the Kansas Corn Growers after leading that organization for a quarter of a century and was presented with the Meritorious Service Award from NCGA. He has been a strong supporter of the ethanol industry during that time and his son Robert is Director of Market Development for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

An avid motorcyclist, White had a serious accident in September 2012, and while he has made a remarkable recovery from critical injuries, he recently decided it was time to pass the reins of the association on to someone else.

classic14-greg-jereThe new Kansas Corn CEO, pictured here with Jere, is Greg Krissek – also a long-time ethanol advocate and industry leader. In his career, Greg has served as Assistant Secretary at the Kansas Department of Agriculture; Director of Operations at Kansas Corn and Kansas Grain Sorghum; Director of Government Affairs for ICM Inc. and, most recently was a manager at Kennedy and Coe, LLC. He has also served on many ethanol and agricultural association boards and on seven ethanol plant boards of directors.

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

California to Consider Updating ILUC for Biofuels

carb-14The California Air Resources Board (ARB) is holding two public workshops regarding the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) this week – one to discuss general updates to the LCFS regulation, and the second to discuss updates to the indirect land use change (iLUC) values. Stakeholder feedback is being solicited for both workshops.

The board will discuss a proposal to update iLUC values for corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, and soy biodiesel, as well as proposed iLUC values for canola biodiesel, sorghum ethanol, and palm biodiesel.

According to a staff concept paper released prior to the meeting, based on recommendations provided by an Expert Working Group, “(p)reliminary results indicate reductions in the iLUC values for soy biodiesel, sugarcane ethanol, and corn ethanol.” The paper states that ARB staff “contracted with experts to refine and improve the iLUC analysis” and as a result “has incorporated significant changes in the estimation of iLUC for biofuels.”

Among the model and data updates that were included in the new estimates are re-estimated energy sector demand and supply elasticity values; improved treatment of corn ethanol co-product (DDGS); improved treatment of soy meal, soy oil, and soy biodiesel; modified structure of the livestock sector;improved method of estimating the productivity of new cropland; adopting a consistent model version and set of model inputs for all biofuel pathways; and revised yield and demand responses to price.

The question is whether the reduction for corn ethanol will be significant enough to be what the industry believes is closer to reality. Some scientists consulted by CARB believe that they are still not using the most updated modeling methods to determine iLUC and that analyses conducted since the LCFS was adopted in 2009 show emissions for corn ethanol are less than half what was estimated at the time.

The adjustments will be presented by staff at the iLUC workshop, scheduled for Tuesday, March 11, from 1:00 – 5:00 pm.

South Dakota to Include 15% Ethanol in State Fleets

South Dakota will soon begin incorporating 15 percent ethanol (E15) fuel into its state vehicle fleet.

sd-govGovernor Dennis Daugaard announced Thursday that E15 will be made available this year during a test period at four major fuel sites in Brookings, Pierre, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. The state will utilize E15 for flex fuel vehicles and some of its newer non-flex fuel models that are approved for E15 use. Flex fuel vehicles make up over 58 percent of the fleet or 1,950 vehicles. Currently, the state fueling sites primarily provide E10 fuel for fleet vehicles.

“South Dakota is a large ethanol producer, and our state has significantly benefited from the ethanol industry,” said Daugaard. “The goal is to use more of our homegrown fuel by using E15, the newest fuel in the marketplace.”

South Dakota is the fifth largest ethanol producing state in the nation, producing about a billion gallons per year, an industry worth about $3.8 billion. It is also home to POET, one of the world’s largest ethanol production companies, based in Sioux Falls. “We are excited to hear Governor Daugaard’s desire to incorporate E15 into South Dakota’s state vehicle fleet,” POET President and CEO Jeff Lautt. “This is a no-cost means to create new jobs, stimulate the economy, secure our nation and improve our environment.”

Also located in South Dakota is the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE). “Gov. Daugaard is providing tremendous leadership and vision by encouraging the use of E15 in the state’s vehicle fleet, a move which will support South Dakota’s farmers and ethanol industry,” said Ron Lamberty, ACE senior vice president.

The governor’s office says the testing period for E15 will run about six months, after which the state will evaluate how the use of the E15 blend affected the fleet and determine how to efficiently utilize ethanol in the future. “We are confident state employees will find E15 a safe, reliable and affordable fuel choice,” said Lamberty.

Advanced Ethanol Here at Last

nec14-cellulosic-panelDuring the National Ethanol Conference, representatives of four leading companies talked about how advanced ethanol is here at last. Moderated by Advanced Ethanol Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman, the panelists included Chris Standlee with Abengoa; Kenneth Hill with DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol; Delayne Johnson, CEO of Quad County Corn Processors; and Steve Hartig, Licensing General Manager for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels, LLC.

nec14-standlee-2

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am thrilled to finally be able to say that this is the pivotal year for second generation ethanol for the United States and perhaps in the world,” said Chris Standlee with Abengoa Bioenergy, who talked about the upcoming launch of their 25 million gallon/year cellulosic ethanol facility in Hugoton, Kansas. The company has invested nearly 10 years into developing its own proprietary second-gen technology and the biorefinery in Kansas that will go online in 2014 is the fruition of this commitment. Learn more about Abengoa’s cellulosic refinery here: Remarks by Chris Standlee, Abengoa

Kenneth Hill with DuPontKenneth Hill with DuPont noted that his company is focused on bridging the gap between agriculture and advanced materials. This includes enzymes and cellulosic biofuels. DuPont is working with companies around the world to develop cellulosic biofuels, yet the project that may have the most attention is currently under construction in Nevada, Iowa. Learn about this project and others here: Remarks by Kenneth Hill, DuPont

Delayne Johnson Quad County Corn ProcessorsDelayne Johnson said that since Quad County Corn Processors went into production in 2002 they have continuously been looking for niche ways to add value to a kernel of corn. With the aid of R&D expert Travis Brotherson, five years ago he developed a now patented cellulosic process. The technology has added 6 percent to their yield, they are getting 2 1/2 times more corn oil than they had been getting, and are able to produce a higher protein feed product (DDG) than they had in the past. Quad County is currently in the process of building the technology out at full-scale and the cellulosic portion of their biorefinery is expected to begin production this summer. Learn more about Quad County’s cellulosic technology here: Remarks by Delayne Johnson, Quad Council Corn Processors

Steve Hartig with Poet DSMFor many years Poet has been talking about the future of cellulosic ethanol using corn residue – corn stover, corn cobs, etc. According to Steve Hartig, With major strides over the past few years and a key strategic partnership with DSM, Project Liberty is set to go into production later this summer. Project Liberty is co-located with a first generation ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Once in production, co-location will be their key strategy for several reasons included excess energy, infrastructure and personnel. Learn about Poet-DSM’s take on the advanced biofuels here: Remarks by Steve Hartig, POET-DSM

2014 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

NEC Coverage sponsored by Patriot Renewable Fuels LLC

Cold Winter Challenges Ethanol Plant Logistics

nec14-rail-bobAt the National Ethanol Conference last week, Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen had a discussion with Ed Hamberger, President and CEO, Association of American Railroads, on Regulatory Crackdown on Rail Transport. They discussed current government proposals focused on rail cars.

Hamberger kicked off the discussion by noting that ethanol has been one of the fastest growing commodity segments for the railroads growing from 40,000 rail cars of ethanol in 2000 to 330,000 in 2011- an 800 percent increase. While he said there were some challenges, new routes, new track, new employees, he said that over the years, the ethanol industry and the rail industry have become good partners for America. Rail Transportation conversation

nec14-patriot-vondraOne ethanol plant of many that is using the railroads to transport its ethanol and byproducts such as dried distillers grains (DDGs) is Patriot Renewable Fuels, located just off I-80 in Annawan, Illinois.  Using rail and trucks involves a lot of logistics and Patriot’s Rick Vondra has noted that with the cold weather over the last couple months they, along with other ethanol plants, have had challenges in moving their product, in particular rail movement.

“It’s been a tremendous challenge and we’ve had to find alternative ways to move our product,” explained Vondra. He said they are using more trucks but so are other plants and on top of the increased demand from their plant and the ethanol industry, the trucks still have other products to deliver.

So how is the weather affecting the railroad industry? Vondra said snow and ice have been a big factor because rail workers have to go and move switches that can get frozen. They have to remove ice from lines and with temperatures getting as cold as 20 below zero, workers can’t be outside long.

With the goal of increased use of E15 and other higher blends of ethanol being a recurring theme during the conference, I asked Vondra what some of his takeaways of this conversation were. He noted that Patriot is working closely with retailers, wholesalers, distributors and car dealers in their local community to educate people on the benefits of ethanol, but also to encourage more adoption and use of ethanol in the community.

Listen to my interview with Rick where he talks about cold logistic challenges as well as their work on ethanol education. Interview with Rick Vondra, Patriot Renewable Fuels

2014 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

NEC Coverage sponsored by Patriot Renewable Fuels LLC

Social Media War Room for Ethanol

Make no mistake about it. The ethanol industry is engaged in a war of words with anti-ethanol forces and every weapon in the arsenal needs to be deployed to fight against these well-funded opponents.

Christina MartinCommunications and Social Media War Room was the title of one of the breakout sessions at last week’s 2014 National Ethanol Conference. Renewable Fuels Association executive vice president Christina Martin moderated the discussion which included comments from Anne O’Neil, Vice President of The Glover Park Group, which is working for Fuels America, and Michael Fleischer, Senior Vice President of marketing agency Direct Impact.

Martin says the purpose of the session was to “capture the momentum” that a lot of ethanol producers built during the EPA comment period for the proposed change in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “They reached out as they never have before to their employees, to their investors and local communities and general supporters,” said Martin. Many ventured into social media for the first time and she says they want to keep that momentum going regardless of where the EPA decision on the RFS ends up.

Find out more in Chuck’s weekly podcast, the ZimmCast: Social Media with Christina Martin