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

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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

#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

RFA Acquires E85Prices.com

e85prices-comThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has acquired E85prices.com, which is a crowdsourced website that offers updated prices for E85 and other ethanol flex-fuels – including E15 – from thousands of stations across the country. In addition to E85prices.com, RFA acquired 11 new websites and a new mobile app to strengthen its online presence and its ability to provide up-to-the-minute information on the availability and pricing of E85 and other ethanol flex-fuels.

E85prices.com and E85vehicles.com are the most visited of the 12 new sites now owned by RFA, with E85prices.com receiving approximately 4 million hits last year. E85prices.com has been a go-to source for consumers seeking E85 pricing information to help make informed fuel purchase decisions. The website also maintains a station locator, a database of all existing E85 stations and blender pump locations, and an online forum. Meanwhile, E85vehicles.com helps consumers locate or identify a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV).

“As the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) continues to be discussed in Congress, and the 2014-2016 RFS requirements remain under consideration at Environmental Protection Agency, we believe it is more important than ever to provide concrete information to decision-makers about E85, E15, and other flex-fuels,” said RFA vice president of Industry Relations Robert White. “At the same time, consumers are looking for more information on renewable fuels, and these websites have provided that service to millions of unique visitors each year.”

In July of 2014, RFA cited E85prices.com when it called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to update their Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) database which was missing nearly 1,000 stations. RFA will continue its efforts to ensure all station databases reflect the real world, and will work with DOE to fix the current discrepancies in their database.

The information on E85prices.com is crowdsourced, but White says RFA will confirm all station locations and ensure they are offering higher-level fuel blends.

I caught up with White as he arrive in Phoenix for the start of the 2015 Commodity Classic and he explained how important this acquisition is for the industry and consumers.
Interview with Robert White, RFA, on E85Prices.com

Partnership Accelerates Cellulosic Ethanol

nec15-cellerateAt the National Ethanol Conference last week, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) presented Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) with the RFA 2015 Industry Award for the development of a process that led to the plant producing the very first gallons of cellulosic ethanol last year.

Cellerate process technology is a collaborative effort between Syngenta and QCCP’s subsidiary company Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies LLC that QCCP licenses to other ethanol plants. Cellerate, which was previously known as the Adding Cellulosic Ethanol process, was invented by QCCP plant engineer Travis Brotherson, pictured here with Jack Bernens of Syngenta.

I talked with Travis and Jack about what Cellerate can do for the industry as a whole and individual plants in this interview: Interview with Quad County Corn Processors and Syngenta

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Global Energy Market Outlook at #NEC15

nec15-kingstonFluctuations in the world oil market do impact ethanol energy demand and, in turn, production. During the National Ethanol Conference, John Kingston with McGraw Hill Financial Global Institute broke down how the petroleum markets have reacted and what that has meant for the ethanol industry.

Kingston explained a variety of reports, such as the OPEC call and U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) information that has shown that U.S. oil production would drop, and now that is indeed being displayed not just on the theoretical level. That drop in oil production is also in response to an overall overage in the petroleum markets, which has pushed oil off its $100/barrel status down to nearly half of that now… with possibilities that it could drop to the $20s/barrel – an unthinkable drop from what was considered a “permanent high.” Part of what helped push those oil prices down has been a drop in gasoline demand. When oil is very cheap, it can make it much more difficult for ethanol producers to stay cost competitive. Adding in less gasoline for ethanol to be blended into, and those oil fluctuations are having an impact on ethanol. Kingston added that the government regulations on ethanol are adding to the issue.

“When you bring a government into a market, it tends not to operate as it would have otherwise. That volatility in the market [that has trickled down to ethanol producers] is quite substantial,” he said. “Ethanol will always be a a little more volatile than some of these petroleum-based products.”

Kingston said while the energy industries are creative in finding ways to stay profitable, they’ll just have to do it at much lower prices.

Listen to all of Kingston’s remarks here: John Kingston, McGraw Hill Financial Global Institute

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Advanced Ethanol Progress and Concerns

nec15-advance-panelWhile it’s making progress, there are still plenty of questions and concerns regarding advanced ethanol production. During the the 20th National Ethanol Conference, a panel of advanced ethanol producers talked about the challenges and opportunities facing their industry.

Advanced Ethanol Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman moderated the panel which included Bill Feehery of DuPont Industrial Biosciences (pictured at the podium), Adam Monroe of Novozymes, Paula Corollo with Beta Renewables, and Abengoa’s Chris Standlee. Coleman said while there are naysayers, who try to talk down the cellulosic industry, saying it’s not going fast enough or isn’t successful enough, he sees incredible progress over the last five years for the industry. But it’s not going to get easier.

“This is a crossroads and the part where it gets hard. This is the part where we diversify feedstock, introduce new technologies, and the [Environmental Protection Agency] has to look down and decide if we’re going to change the fuel markets at a fundamental level or just change them to where the oil industry is comfortable,” Coleman said.

Feehery’s presentation focused on the progress cellulosic ethanol has made, calling the recent advancements that are delivering a cleaner, more sustainable transportation fuel that’s also invigorating rural America’s economy. “It’s a victory of science, industry policy, and plain good, old-fashioned hard work, and it’s an accomplishment we all share together.”

Looking ahead, Feehery said it’s also important to look back at what has been successful to see the path forward. He pointed to efficiencies and technologies, such as enzymes, that are making cellulosic more affordable and more commercially viable. He’s also excited by how celluslosic ethanol is being embraced by American companies not just within the fuels markets, such as Procter & Gamble, which is using cellulosic ethanol in its formulation for Tide laundry detergent. He concluded that these technologies and adoptions by industry are key drivers in how cellulosic ethanol will grow in the years to come.

“What we see is the beginning of a bioeconomy in action,” Feehery said.

Listen to Feehery’s presentation before the group here: NEC 15 Advanced Ethanol Panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

RFA Chairman Pleased with 20th Ethanol Conference

nec15-doyleRenewable Fuels Association (RFA) chairman and Al-Corn Clean Fuel CEO Randy Doyal was pleased with this year’s turnout at the 20th National Ethanol Conference in the “heart of oil country.”

“This has been a really great conference,” said Doyal, whose farmer-owned cooperative plant in Claremont, Minnesota is about 20 years old as well. “Twenty years ago when we were starting the plant we had, for the first time, five dollar corn,” he said. “It was perfect timing because we got up and running when a lot of the industry was ceasing because of that price and because of our co-op nature we were able to do that.”

Doyal is a firm believer in the RFA and what they are able to accomplish as an organization for the entire industry, and he wishes all producers were members. He compares it to the co-op structure of his plant. “There’s a reason why co-ops work,” he said. “It’s because people join together and work hard to achieve common goals and that’s what RFA is all about.” Interview with RFA Chairman Randy Doyal, Al-Corn

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Political Insiders Provide Ethanol Policy Perspective

nec15-insiders-panelRenewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen welcomed back veteran Washington Insiders panelists at the 20th National Ethanol Conference last week, kind of like a Saturday Night Live reunion, he joked.

The panelists were National Corn Growers Association Executive Vice President Jon Doggett, John Eichberger with the National Association of Convenience Stores, Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute, Shane Karr with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and Advanced Ethanol Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman. Each offered their views on a number of policy and political topics from what Congress may do regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to who the presidential candidates will be in 2016.

NEC 15 Washington Insiders Panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Where RFA and EPA Disagree

nec15-dinneen-grundlerEPA Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality Chris Grundler was sincere and apologetic during his appearance at the National Ethanol Conference last week, but he admits to having areas of disagreement with Renewable Fuels Association CEO Bob Dinneen.

“E15 will never realize its full potential until there is parity with regard to EPA volatility regulations for E10 and E15,” said Dinneen in his State of the Industry speech at the 20th annual ethanol conference. “To date, the Agency has rejected our efforts to secure parity, thereby ensuring that E15 is at best a seasonal fuel, a huge disincentive for marketers to adopt E15 at their stations.”

Asked about this issue by DomesticFuel, Grundler said, “That’s one of the areas that Bob and I have vigorous debates on, because I’m questioning how big a factor that is in terms of the slow uptake in E15.”

Grundler said parity is not an issue in regions where reformulated gasoline is required. “That accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of our fuel supply …. including places like Chicago,” he said, adding that governors have the ability to petition EPA to remove this one pound RVP waiver for their states but they “have received no such petitions.”

I also asked Grundler what he thought about Dinneen’s criticism of the EPA in his speech. “I didn’t think it was too harsh (but) I didn’t agree with everything he had to say,” said Grundler, adding that he thinks all stakeholders in this issue seem to overestimate EPA’s authority. “That’s where (Bob) and I differ. He thinks we can do some things that I don’t think we can,” he said.

Listen to Grundler’s answers to my questions here: EPA's Chris Grundler press questions

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

NASCAR Starts 5th Year on American Ethanol

american-ethanol-fuelFuel with 15 percent ethanol, known as E15, has been approved for sale by the Environmental Protection Agency since January 2011. Two months later Sunoco Green E15 debuted at the 2011 Daytona 500.

American Ethanol
celebrated the start of the fifth year of its partnership with NASCAR at the Great American Race this weekend. “They’ve put over six million hard-earned miles at high RPMs on these race cars,” said Tom Buis of Growth Energy at the race on Sunday. “They got better performance, they didn’t lose mileage and they haven’t had a single problem.”

Interview with Tom Buis, Growth Energy, at Daytona 500

NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar says the partnership with American Ethanol has been very positive for them. “What we love about ethanol is not only is it a great renewable but it’s a great racing fuel, higher octane so it’s great performance for the drivers,” he said. “It’s also great for the environment, reduces greenhouse gases, homemade here in America …. it’s a win-win-win and in car races we’re all about winning!”

Dewar lived in Brazil as that country was moving to higher ethanol blends and he hopes to see it grow here in the United States as well. Interview with Brent Dewar, NASCAR, at Daytona 500

Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association, New Holland and POET-DSM are partners in American Ethanol with NASCAR.

Ethanol Conference Scholarship Winner

nec15-scholarshipThis year’s National Ethanol Conference scholarship winner hails from Brazil where she received her master’s degree in international relations in 2012 from San Tiago Dantas, a graduate program supported by three of Brazil’s premier universities.

Lais Thomaz, pictured here with Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen, was pleased to be able to attend the conference to learn more first hand about the U.S. ethanol industry that will help in her research. Her dissertation, which focused on the role of advocacy groups in the shaping of ethanol trade policies, was published as a book by Brazil’s Editora UNESP. Her research previously won the Top Ethanol Award promoted by the Brazilian Sugarcane Ethanol Industry Association (UNICA). She is currently a Ph.D. candidate and a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

Listen to my interview with Lais here: Interview with NEC 15 Scholarship Winner

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

#NEC15 Wrap Up

nec15-globalRenewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen wrapped up the 20th annual National Ethanol Conference on Friday as optimistic as ever.

“The atmosphere in the room, the attitude of the producers that I talked to, the confidence that they continue to show in their industry,” said Dinneen. “They are braced for whatever comes their way and we’re not going away.”

Dinneen gives an overview of the convention last week and some of his takeaways. NEC15 Wrap up with RFA CEO Bob Dinneen

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album