Ag Secretary Stresses Biofuels Support at AFBF

afbf15-vilsack-stallmanReal farmers from around the country had a chance to ask Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack questions during an informal town hall-style meeting at the American Farm Bureau convention this week in San Diego.

The last question he took was from a South Dakota farmer who asked about continuation of strong biofuels policy in the United States. Vilsack detailed his continued support for the industry, particularly in the area of exports. “I am a firm believer in the future of the biofuels industry,” he said. “Ethanol production is at record levels…we’re now beginning to see great interest in the export market, not just for ethanol but also for dried distillers grains.”

Beyond the Renewable Fuel Standard, Vilsack said USDA is working hard to encourage the Defense Department to use more biofuels. “They are scheduled this year to begin a process of buying hundreds of millions of gallons of biofuels for jets and ships,” he said.

The last point the secretary made was on the need to update the research on ethanol in particular, especially when it comes to indirect land use. “A lot of the push back to the industry is based on studies that took place 15 years ago, 10 years ago, and there have been enormous increases in productivity of American farmers, that basically suggest the indirect land use calculations are not as accurate as they need to be,” he said.

Listen to the secretary’s comments on biofuels here: Secretary Vilsack at AFBF on biofuels


2015 AFBF Convention photo album

Ethanol Report Looks at Year Ahead

ethanol-report-adUnfinished business and much of the same old attacks on the RFS are likely to dominate 2015 for the ethanol industry.

In this edition of “The Ethanol Report,” Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen takes a look at what he expects to be some of the big issues for ethanol in the year ahead.

Ethanol Report on Industry Outlook for 2015

Sorghum for Cellulosic Ethanol Update

While corn stover might be the big talk recently in the cellulosic ethanol game, sorghum could emerge as an alternative to the feedstock for the advanced green fuel. During the recent American Seed Trade Association CSS 2014 and Seed Expo in Chicago, Leah Guffey caught up with Scott Staggenborg of Chromatinasta-css-14-chromatin, a sorghum genetics company, and they talked about using sorghum for cellulosic ethanol.

“People forget that many of sorghum’s original uses were for animal feed, so biomass yield is important and digestability is important,” said Staggenborg. “So if you think about cellulosic ethanol production, it’s just really a big, steel or concrete digester, rather than a four-legged digester.”

He went on to say that with the 40,000 varieties of sorghum availability, his company is taking advantage of traditional breeding and modern molecular methods to get the most out of sorghum, especially for cellulosic biofuels. One of the breeds he points to as having great potential for biofuels is sweet sorghum, which he compares to an annual sugarcane, except sorghum has to re-established each year from seed.

“It’s high biomass, and it has high juice yields, as well as high sugar yields,” Staggenborg explained. “Those three combined result in high sugar yields per acre, and that’s the goal of our breeding program, as well as altering the composition of the sugar itself.”

He added that the Renewable Fuels Standard is a big driver in making sure there is a market for sorghum-based, or any other feedstock-based, cellulosic biofuel.

“The RFS establishes a market, establishes a need, sort of primes the pump for the demand, until it becomes something that widely available, although it’s already widely accepted, and allows a fledgling industry to move forward.”

You can hear all of Leah’s interview with Scott here: Scott Staggenborg, Chromatin

Ethanol Report 2014 Year in Review

ethanol-report-adEvery year is interesting for the ethanol industry and 2014 was no exception.

Some of the highlights included record production and sales, healthy exports, and the commercial reality of cellulosic ethanol. The low point of the year was definitely the inability of the federal government to set volume obligations for 2014 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), leaving the industry in somewhat of a limbo.

In this Ethanol Report, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen takes a look back at some of the good news and bad news for the ethanol industry in 2014 and wishes us all a very happy new year.

Ethanol Report on 2014 Year in Review

DF Cast: Bundling Biomass for a Cellulosic Future

As cellulosic ethanol plants are opening up across the country, those facilities need a way to get the feedstocks, while farmers need a way to get that biomass to those new refineries. That’s where Pacific Ag comes in.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we talk to CEO Bill Levy and Steve Van Mouwerik, Vice President of Operations for Pacific Ag, as they talk about how their custom field residue business, which started in 1999 for baling crop residues for animal feeding operations, is a good fit for the emerging cellulosic industry, as Pacific Ag is demonstrating at Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Kansas that went online this past October and is expected to produce 25 million gallons of advanced ethanol per year.

Hear more about it here: Domestic Fuel Cast - Bundling Biomass for a Cellulosic Future

PacificAg Can Help Ethanol Plants Go Cellulosic

pacificag-logoThe largest and most experienced biomass harvest company in the country wants to help ethanol plants develop or expand operations into the production of cellulosic ethanol by saving time and money on supply chain development. PacificAg, which is already supplying biomass for plants in Iowa and Kansas, enables cellulosic biorefineries the ability to source cost-competitive biomass for biofuel and biochemical production.

PacificAg started in the residue management business nearly 20 years ago harvesting forage crops for feed in Oregon and CEO Bill Levy says they have expanded to meet the needs of the growing biofuels industry in the Midwest.

pacificag-harvest“We can save an ethanol plant the time and money in developing a supply chain,” says Levy. “It’s a very specific supply chain with very specific challenges and I think we have a lot of experience overcoming these challenges and developing these supply chains quicker than anybody else.”

Biomass products include corn stover, wheat straw and milo stover products because of their abundance and supply. “What we’ve found in the Midwest is that not all growers are accustomed to removing this supply,” says Levy, stressing that a major component of their suite of services includes a balanced residue management program.

There are two critical elements an ethanol plant must consider when ramping up cellulosic ethanol production: year round biomass supply and sustainability around biomass residue harvest.

Harrison Pettit, a company partner who works with ethanol plants to help them get their biomass programs off the ground, notes that market needs for advanced biofuels industry are long-term and year round. “Ethanol plants are built to operate for more than 30 years.”

How does a grower know if he or she should participate in a biomass residue harvest program? Pettit says the first question to ask is, Are you within 100 miles of a cellulosic ethanol facility? “If you are a corn grower, wheat grower or milo grower, then you really ought to give us a call,” says Pettit. “If you really want to learn about how a residue management program can benefit your ground and benefit your bank account, then we want to talk.”

Learn more about PacificAg and the services they offer for both farmers and ethanol plants in these interviews with Levy and Pettit.
Interview with PacificAg CEO Bill Levy
Interview with PacificAg partner Harrison Pettit

Ethanol Report on RFS Anniversary

ethanol-report-adToday, December 19, marks the seventh anniversary of the signing into law of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 which expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

In this Ethanol Report, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen remembers that day seven years ago and talks about its accomplishments so far and how EPA needs to move ahead with the law as written. He also comments on the report out this week from the Bipartisan Policy Center recommending changes to the RFS.

Ethanol Report on RFS Anniversary

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

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

Biodiesel Benefits Livestock Producers

nafb14-nbb-weberWhile some have tried to pit the biofuels industry against livestock producers, the folks at the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) explain their green fuel is actually helping those producers.

“The livestock industry is a strong stakeholder. That’s how we view animal agriculture in terms of biodiesel production,” said Alan Weber, economic consultant for the NBB, during a recent interview with Cindy at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters convention.

Alan said that while soy oil still remains the main feedstock for biodiesel, the fuel is making inroads using animal tallow. In fact, he said that 25 percent of animal fat from livestock production now goes into biodiesel. He pointed out that while European demand has dropped for animal fats, biodiesel has helped maintain the market and keep money in farmers’ pockets. Alan also reiterated a point made many times before that with the crush of soybeans for biodiesel, it is actually helping keep feed for livestock plentiful.

“Every time we crush an additional bushel of soybeans, we also get more meal,” actually keeping down feed costs, he said. “It’s been a nice relationship, and we look forward to continuing that in the future.”

Listen to more of Cindy’s interview with Alan here: Interview with Alan Weber, economic consultant for the NBB

2014 NAFB Convention Photos

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NAFB Convention is sponsored by FMC

Hear Biofuels Reps Talk About RFS Delay

epa-150Biofuels industry representatives spent Friday afternoon fielding calls from reporters to comment on the Environmental Protection Agency decision to put off finalizing 2014 volume standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard program until next year.

Domestic Fuel caught up with four of the industry groups, starting with Bob Dinneen with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), already posted previously.

Listen to the interviews below:

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE)Interview with ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings

Growth Energy
Interview with Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis

National Biodiesel Board (NBB)Interview with NBB Vice President of Federal Affairs Anne Steckel

On Monday, biofuels industry leaders will hold briefings for Capitol Hill staff and the media to discuss the implications of the decision and where we go from here. The Fuels America briefing will feature Buis, Dinneen, Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC) Executive Director Brooke Coleman, and Brent Erickson with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

Ethanol Report on RFS Delay

ethanol-report-adAs the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it will be next year before 2014 volume standards can be finalized, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) offered comments on behalf of the industry on the development.

In this Ethanol Report, RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen talks about their reaction and what the continued uncertainty means for the industry going forward.

Ethanol Report on RFS Delay

New Corn Growers CEO Wants to Grow Demand

ncga-novakNew National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) CEO Chris Novak talked about challenges facing the corn industry as he visited with members of the agricultural media during the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention last week in Kansas City.

“Lots of big challenges ahead for us,” said Novak, who just took over the CEO job for Rick Tolman who retired last month. “Looking at a record crop and lower prices than we’d like to see but that’s an opportunity as well.”

Novak sees increasing demand as the most important challenge and opportunity for the industry. “How do we ensure that with a second record crop in a row that we’ve got the demand that can keep our farmers profitable?” he said. The primary demand sectors – livestock, ethanol and exports – all offer new growth potential.

“Certainly EPA’s support and implementation of the renewable fuels law as passed by Congress is going to be important to us in the short term,” he added. “Longer term we’re looking to build consumer demand for a renewable fuel that increases our energy independence and helps reduce greenhouse gases.”

Chris Novak previously served many years as chief executive officer of the National Pork Board and prior to that, he was executive director of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

In this interview, Novak also talks about NCGA’s comments on the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, and what he expects from the lame duck session of Congress and the new Congress in January. Interview with Chris Novak, NCGA CEO

2014 NAFB Convention Photos

NAFB Convention is sponsored by
NAFB Convention is sponsored by FMC

RFA CEO Talks Ethanol Issues with Broadcasters

Attending the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention in Kansas City last week, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen talked about all of the important issues facing the ethanol industry with farm broadcasters from around the nation.

Among the topics he addressed were the need for Congress to pass tax extenders for biofuels, first cellulosic ethanol plants going on line this year, how lower oil could be impacting domestic oil production, rail transportation issues, and of course, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

nafb-14-dinneenRegarding the lame duck session of Congress, Dinneen says it’s called lame for a reason but he does expect them to pass a tax extenders bill. “It will include the biodiesel tax credit and the cellulosic ethanol tax incentive, which will be good to have now that we finally have cellulosic ethanol production so they can take advantage of the tax incentive that has been there for them,” he said.

While the industry continues to expect a final decision from the EPA on the 2014 volume requirements any day, Dinneen says it could still be next week. “I fear for my Thanksgiving dinner because I suspect that the minute I carve into that turkey, I’m going to get an email that Gina McCarthy has just signed the rule,” he said. “I wish they’d get it out, let’s just be done with it.”

Seeing gas prices continue to drop nationwide, Dinneen agrees with some analysts that OPEC could be trying to cut U.S. oil production. “The Saudis, I think, have become annoyed that the U.S. is producing more (oil) and has decided that they want to try to break the back of these fracking operations,” said Dinneen, noting that those operations start losing money with prices below $80 a barrel. “Ethanol remains the lowest cost transportation fuel on the planet today and it’s unlikely that the Saudis will be able to break our back.”

Hear more in this interview: Interview with Bob Dinneen, RFA

2014 NAFB Convention Photos

NAFB Convention is sponsored by
NAFB Convention is sponsored by FMC

New CARD Study on Indirect Land Use Change

CARD LogoA new analysis of real-world land use data by Iowa State University raises serious concerns about the accuracy of models used by regulatory agencies regarding “indirect land use changes” (ILUC) attributed to biofuels production.

The study, conducted by Prof. Bruce Babcock and Zabid Iqbal at ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), examined actual observed global land use changes in the period spanning from 2004 to 2012 and was compared to predictions from the economic models used by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop ILUC penalty factors for regulated biofuels. The report concluded that farmers around the world have responded to higher crop prices in the past decade by using available land resources more efficiently rather than expanding the amount of land brought into production.

cooper-headshot“There hasn’t been much land use change in terms of converting non-agricultural land into crop land,” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper. “We’ve seen more double-cropping, we’ve seen triple-cropping in some parts of the world. And, very interestingly, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of planted acres that are harvested.”

Cooper says the study, which was funded in part by RFA, comes at a time when the California ARB is in the process of re-adopting its low carbon fuel standard, which includes revisiting their land use analysis. “So this paper, we hope, should inform that debate and bring some clarity and commonsense,” said Cooper. More importantly, this new analysis can provide input to states like Oregon and Washington which are currently working on developing low carbon fuel standards.

Cooper explains more in this interview: Interview with Geoff Cooper, RFA