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

Austin Dillon Proud of American Ethanol Affiliation

nh-daytona-dillonAmerican Ethanol NASCAR driver Austin Dillon is proud of his affiliation with homegrown ethanol and pleased with the performance of E15 on the track.

“I really support what we’re doing with American Ethanol,” said Dillon in an interview this weekend. “It’s funny that you wouldn’t think NASCAR would be a “green” sport” but what we’ve done with American Ethanol has helped us be the leader in sports with green American Ethanol.”

Dillon drove the number 33 car in the Xfinity Series Alert Today Florida 300 race at Daytona Speedway on Saturday, finishing 4th, and is driving the #3 car in the Daytona 500 race for Richard Childress Racing. Prior to the race on Saturday, Austin spent some time with a group of New Holland dealers. New Holland is a strong supporter of American Ethanol.

Listen to my interview with Austin here: Interview with NASCAR driver Austin Dillon

NFL Hall of Fame Member Supports Ethanol

nec15-houstonJoining in the golf tournament prior to the start of the Renewable Fuels Association’s National Ethanol Conference last week was NFL Hall of Fame member Kenny Houston.

Houston finished his career with the Washington Redskins in 1980 and played in 12 Pro Bowls and the more than 30 teams at NEC 2015 golf tournament really enjoyed hanging out with him. For his part, Houston enjoyed learning more about the ethanol industry from them. “Being from Texas I definitely know about ethanol so I jumped at the chance (to attend the conference) and I’m glad I did,” he said.

Houston agrees that ethanol has been good for the economy and helped to hold down gas prices. “I think they (the ethanol industry) work for a balance,” he said. “Right now, I think it’s a win-win.”

Listen to my interview with Kenny here: Interview with Kenny Houston

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Panel Explores Progress of RFS and LCFS

nec15-panel1A diverse group of stakeholders gave a diverse set of opinions on the progress to date of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper moderated the panel which featured (L to R) Jeremy Martin with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Chris Highsmith of Eco-Energy, Derek Regal of oil refiner Tesoro, Pacific Ethanol president Neil Koehler, and Michael Rensing with the British Colombia Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Cooper called the RFS “a remarkable success to date…by any metric that you choose” and said despite efforts by California to eliminate corn ethanol “the LCFS has succeeded so far because of grain-based ethanol” but they still have concerns about the program going forward.

Listen to the panelists viewpoints here: NEC 15 Panel on RFS and LCFS

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Former USTR Praises Ethanol for Going Global

nec15-kirkFormer U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk was the keynote speaker at the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) National Ethanol Conference this week where the theme was “Going Global” with an emphasis on exports.

“I want to thank you for your very strong and vocal support for a very smart trade policy for our country over the years,” said Kirk, who served under President Obama in his first term. “You understand the importance of going global.”

Kirk lamented that too many Americans have “gone sour” on international trade, citing a poll that found twice as many Americans said they believe in the existence of UFOs than believed international trade was good for America. “We have got to go out and tell the story of the real benefits of trade,” he said.

Listen to Kirk’s remarks here: Former USTR Ron Kirk at NEC 15

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album