FEW Panel Looks Back and to Future of Ethanol

Lucy Norton IRFAAttendees of this week’s 30th Annual Fuel Ethanol Workshop (FEW) heard a discussion of 30 years of past and the next five years ahead for ethanol.

“I think one of the opportunities we missed 30 years ago was developing a national brand for ethanol,” says Lucy Norton with the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA). “We let the industry that didn’t like the fact we were taking away 10 percent of their market name it, label it, sell it the way they wanted to,” missing out on a huge opportunity to create an image for ethanol of a high-performance, low-cost fuel.

But, she’s not just about looking back. Lucy credits their new efforts to market and brand ethanol to the high-performance vehicles of NASCAR as a way to correct that image. Fans are able to see ethanol’s performance in their favorite racers’ vehicles and realize they too can have ethanol in their tanks. She says as they build that demand for the green fuel, they also need to make sure the infrastructure is in place so consumers are able to access ethanol.

Moving forward, Lucy says they are looking to higher blends of ethanol, such as E15, as the way to increase the amount of ethanol sold and used in this country.

“We need a way to sell unhindered higher blends of ethanol and convince marketers and petroleum refiners that there is market for low-vapor pressure gasoline in the Midwest and other parts of the country. If they would just ship it here, we would find them the customers.”

You can listen to Leah’s interview with Lucy here:Interview with Lucy Norton, Iowa RFA

Check out the 2014 Fuel Ethanol Workshop photo album.

Patriot Renewable Fuels is an Innovation Leader

Last week Patriot Renewable Fuels announced the news that the biofuels plant is making plans, and hopes to add, ICM’s Fiber Separation Technology as well as their Generation 1.5 cellulosic technology to their biorefinery facility located Annawan, Illinois. Patriot is one of the first ethanol plants in the country to adopt both technologies together. During 2014 FEW this week Gene Patriot Renewable Fuels Gene GriffithGriffith, co-founder and president of Patriot updated DomesticFuel on the project. It should be noted that this is just one of several major value-added projects Patriot has announced in less than a year making them one of, if not the most innovative ethanol plant/biorefinery in the U.S.

Griffith said they are pretty excited about the projects and after spending several months doing due-diligence on ICM’s technologies as well as other technologies, they felt that this was the right time to begin the project.

“If we get it implemented, we’ll be one of the earlier, maybe one of the earliest independent ethanol producers to this form of cellulosic ethanol, and we’re really excited about it,” said Griffith.

Griffith said being at FEW is a great networking opportunity because the the people Patriot works with are entrenched and have a lost of useful information and they are able to learn information they wouldn’t be able to generate on their own.

Last December, Patriot added another ICM platform, Select Milling Technology, and the Fiber Separation Technology builds upon this platform. “The Select Milling Technology is a separate mill that further processes the starch in the corn kernel as its ground before it goes into the fermentation process, explained Griffith. “The platforms we’re adding will be the Fiber Separation Technology which separates the fiber from the starch. Essentially, by removing the fiber from the starch, it improves our ethanol production efficiency so we get more ethanol from the corn,” explained Griffith.

Then he noted that they are able to take the fiber and do two-three things with it. One, they could add it back to the distiller’s grain (DDGs) and sell it has a high fiber form of distillers grain protein. Two, they could keep the fiber separate and sell a higher protein feed for a premium that is better for monogastric animals (such as pigs). The third option, which is what Patriot would like to do, is to ferment the fiber for additional ethanol.

Corn delivery to Patriot Renewable FuelsPresently Patriot is producing around 130 million gallons of ethanol per year and Griffith thinks they can produce another 10-12 percent ethanol production from the same kernel of corn. Griffith hopes that they can have all their permits by the end of the year and implement the two new technologies by 2015.

Griffith said many producers are doing similar things with different company’s technologies but they spent a lot of time with him learning about the technologies they implemented. He also said other producers will be watching their progress to help them decide if and when the technologies might be a good addition to their plants.

Learn more Patriot’s ethanol innovations by listening to Gene Griffith: Interview with Patriot's Gene Griffith

Check out the 2014 Fuel Ethanol Workshop photo album.

Tom Buis Discusses Ethanol Challenges at FEW

The 30th Annual Fuel Ethanol Workshop (FEW) kicked off this week with an annual ethanol industry update from Growth Energy’s CEO Tom Buis. Leah Guffey was able to catch up with Buis after his presentation and asked him what some of the biggest challenges facing the ethanol industry are right now.

growth energy Tom Buis 2014 FEW“The most immediate challenge confronting us is what the EPA and the administration is going to with the 2014 renewable fuel volume obligations (RVOs),” answered Buis. This is in essence what the industry calls the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard.

The rule, noted Buis, should have been finalized by January 1, 2014. He said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is late and the proposed rule is a very controversial rule. “The proposed rule really missed the mark in our opinion,” said Buis. “We don’t think they based it upon the facts. We’ve spent the last six months trying to convince them they got it wrong and they’ve got to move it forward not backwards.”

When asked when he thought the final rule would come out Buis answered, “Pick your rumor.” He said there were over 300,000 comments about the proposed rule and he believes EPA is working as fast as they can.

While there are many steps that have to be taken before the rule can be finalized, Buis said, “Hopefully they get it right. I’ll take it late if it’s right as opposed to early and wrong.”

Learn more about some of the challenges facing the ethanol industry in Leah’s interview with Tom Buis:Interview with Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis

Check out the 2014 Fuel Ethanol Workshop photo album.

Corn Growers CEO Addresses FEW

few14-tolmanNational Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman took the podium to address the general session at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Indianapolis this week. It’s the 30th year for the workshop and during his remarks he commented on how things have changed in the past 30 years – from the acres of corn planted and bushels harvested to the gallons of ethanol produced and where things are headed in the future of the industry.

“It’s so exciting to see the tremendous growth the industry has made,” said Tolman. “We have so many ethanol plants now and it’s part of the mainstream, it’s in almost every gallon of gasoline across the country … and ten years ago that wasn’t the case … we’ve made tremendous progress.”

In an interview after his address at FEW, Tolman talked about this year’s corn crop, which is expected to be another record. Emergence pushed past the five-year average last week, according to the latest USDA report, and 75 percent of all acres are rated in good to excellent condition as of June 8.

Tolman says while we have planted a few less acres this year we continue to push through the 10-million bushel barrier that was so difficult to reach early in his 14-year tenure as NCGA CEO. He will be stepping down from that position at the end of September. Interview with NCGA CEO Rick Tolman

2014 Fuel Ethanol Workshop Photo Album

Edeniq Stresses Cellulosic Ethanol is Here

edeniqAt the Corn Utilization and Technology Conference last week, Steve Rust with Edeniq talked about new processing technology and products taking ethanol to the next level.

“Cellulosic ethanol is for real now,” says Rust. “People need to know that because this is key right now with discussions on the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

rust-headRust says new technology like Edeniq’s PATHWAY Platform is helping to make cellulosic ethanol a reality. “We have a piece of equipment that pre-treats the slurry in a corn ethanol plant and then we add a helper enzyme in it that we co-fermentate cellulosic and corn ethanol in the same fermenter,” he explained. “The nice thing about our technology is that it can be used in any dry mill ethanol plant for them to be able to get cellulosic gallons for a small capitol investment.”

Interview with Steve Rust, Edeniq


2014 CUTC Photo Album

Gen 1.5 – Corn Fiber to Ethanol

scott-kohlSomewhere between corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol is a midpoint that can be found in the corn kernel.

“Generation one is starch to ethanol and generation two is corn stover and grasses but there is cellulose in the corn kernel,” explained ICM, Inc. technical director Scott Kohl during a session last week at the Corn Utilization and Technology Conference. “That’s the Generation 1.5 – the fiber in the corn kernel.”

Kohl says ICM is developing processes to separate that fiber from the rest of the kernel to make more ethanol so that the yield from a single bushel of corn will increase. “We’ve run nearly 2,000 hours of pilot runs on that system,” he said. “We are now in the process of getting the financing arranged to have the first plant running by the middle of 2015.” Interview with Scott Kohl, ICM

It was just announced last week that Patriot Renewable Fuels of Annawan, Illinois will be one of the first to use Gen 1.5 with ICM’s patent-pending Fiber Separation Technology (FST). “ICM’s ethanol technology is a logical platform on which to build our business as a bio refinery” said Patriot’s VP/GM Rick Vondra. “There are many new product and growth possibilities using corn as our feedstock, and we have identified these as two high potential processes that we can adopt now.”

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Wet and Dry Milling Focus of Conference

cutc-14-martinThe 2014 Corn Utilization and Technology Conference is underway in Louisville, Kentucky and this year the focus is on wet and dry milling technologies and new uses.

National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president Martin Barbre says the event brings together researchers with the common goal of facilitating the next ground-breaking technologies and corn-based products of the future. “It’s a great place for researchers to see what others are doing,” he said. “We also have a very good international focus with visitors and attendees from all four corners of the world.”

As corn growers are just about finished planting what is expected to be another record crop this year, Barbre says they are happy to see increased export demand for corn and the ethanol co-product distillers grains. “When you put an ethanol plant in, it doesn’t change the market (for corn),” he said. “Really there’s only two things that change the market – weather and exports. We’re working hard to increase corn exports worldwide and we’re even working with other countries to open up new markets.” Interview with NCGA president Martin Barbre


2014 CUTC Photo Album

DF Cast: Senators, Industry Push EPA on Biofuels

Time is ticking down for the Environmental Protection Agency to make a decision on how much renewable fuel will be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply, and ethanol and biodiesel groups are pressing for a change to what’s being proposed.

On the biodiesel side, nearly 120 companies have just sent the White House a letter trying to reverse the proposed 1.28 billion gallons of biodiesel to be blended… a move in the wrong direction from the 1.8 billion gallons produced just last year. The letter adds to a chorus of dissent on the agency’s proposal coming from areas such as the Midwest where renewable fuels are made and from usually staunch Obama Administration backers on Capitol Hill.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we hear from U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), as they express their frustration with the EPA proposal… and what can be done to fix this.

Domestic Fuel Cast - Sens., Industry Push EPA on Biofuels

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

Ethanol Groups Participate in China Trade Mission

RFANewlogoU.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse led a mission to promote U.S. agricultural exports in northeast China May 5-13. The mission is part of President Obama’s “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative, designed to help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new customers and markets abroad.

growth-energy-logoTaking part in the mission to promote U.S. biofuels and co-product exports was Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Director of Regulatory Affairs Kelly Davis and Jim Miller with Growth Energy.

During a press conference Tuesday to talk about the trade mission, Davis said it was her first trip to China and she was astounded by the number of cars on the roads and sees a great need for both biofuels and distillers grains for livestock feed in that country. Miller added that China provides an excellent market opportunity for the U.S. ethanol industry.

Also taking part in the trip and the press conference was Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmer’s Union. Ethanol Press Conference Opening Remarks

Biodiesel Producer Certain Uncertainty Will End

christjansenThe manager of a biodiesel refinery from the Nation’s largest biodiesel producer believes the uncertainty in the green fuel’s future will disappear. I caught up with Bryan Christjansen, a general manager for Renewable Energy Group’s Albert Lea, Minn. and Mason City, Iowa plants, shortly after a news conference where several biodiesel producers joined with a group of U.S. senators to decry the uncertainty brought by the government’s proposal to lower the amount of biodiesel to be mixed into the fuel supply and Congress’ failure to renew the $1-a-gallon federal biodiesel tax incentive.

“Some of the things happening here on Capitol Hill, as well as in the White House, are not good for our industry. We are here, and [Congress and the Administration] have helped us get to this point, and we need to continue to grow this industry through what you guys have created already,” he said.

While Bryan said that the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal on the Renewable Fuels Standard is hurting the biodiesel industry by causing so much uncertainty, he is certain that will change.

“With this [news] conference and the open comment period with the EPA, I think we’ve voiced our opinion that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and what better way to do it than by producing biodiesel.”

You can hear my conversation with Bryan here: Bryan Christjansen, REG manager

And you can hear what he and other producers said here: Biodiesel Industry Concerns
And what the U.S. senators attending the news conference said here: Senators Voice Biodiesel Concerns

Biodiesel Producers, Farmers Take to The Hill

goergerBiodiesel producers and farmers who raise the feedstocks for the biodiesel industry took to Capitol Hill this week, joining a group of U.S. Senate Democrats in their calls to end policy uncertainty that is hurting their industry.

“The uncertainty caused by these policy setbacks in Washington, with this proposed retreat on biodiesel volumes under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and the expiration of the [$1-a-gallon federal biodiesel] tax incentive is threatening to unravel [the good built up by the biodiesel industry],” said Terry Goerger, a third generation farmer from Mantador, North Dakota. He added that this is especially hard on the industry that took cues from Congress and the Obama Administration and took the risk to try to build up biodiesel. “We feel like the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Administration is pulling the rug out from underneath us.”

christjansenBryan Christjansen, who manages Renewable Energy Group biodiesel plants in Albert Lea, Minn. and Mason City, Iowa, echoed those sentiments, saying his company believes in the long-term future of biodiesel but wonders if Washington does.

“If the Administration chooses to go with a short-sighted EPA proposal, it does not just put domestic fuel into jeopardy, but it also harms the local economies and billions of dollars in investments,” he said.

haasJeff Haas, CEO of General Biodiesel in Seattle, said that while his company, as well as much of the biodiesel industry, wants to invest and grow, not knowing what the EPA or Congress will do next makes the industry feel like it is just floating adrift.

“We’re nearly halfway through the year, and we still don’t know what the RFS volume will be or whether the biodiesel tax incentive will be reinstated,” adding that the industry relies on these policies for direction. “It’s analogous to setting off across the ocean without a compass for six months.”

Haas also said that some of the best and brightest in biodiesel are losing confidence and leaving the industry because of the uncertainty, and the delays are just wins for opponents of renewable energy.

presbyWayne Presby, owner of White Mountain Biodiesel in North Haverhill, N.H., said his company was founded on the Obama Administration’s stated desire to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gases, put more Americans to work, and increase our national security. But now, after investing millions in his plant alone, as well as hiring workers and buying supplies for a fledgling business in a community that desperately needed it, and making a successful biodiesel production facility, they can’t expand and grow that business because of the uncertainty in biodiesel policy.

“The industry is constantly taking two steps forward and two steps back because of the policy uncertainty.”

Listen to what the group had to say here: Biodiesel Industry Concerns

Ethanol on the Rails

ethanol-report-adIn the last couple of weeks there have been two derailments of trains carrying crude oil, one in Virginia on April 30 and one in Colorado on May 9. These incidents are just the latest in a string of accidents that began last summer when a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Other trains carrying Bakken crude have derailed and caught fire in Alabama, North Dakota, and New Brunswick, Canada.

rail-fireWhile crude oil has been the common denominator in these accidents, ethanol has been caught in the cross fire despite its nearly perfect safety record in rail transportation.

In this edition of “The Ethanol Report,” Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen discusses the safety record of ethanol shipments via the DOT-111A railcar, RFA’s program of safety training and best practices within the ethanol industry, and the need to focus on the root cause of recent derailments, track conditions and human error, and not exclusively on railcar design. Most importantly, he emphasizes “ethanol is not oil.”

Ethanol Report with RFA president Bob Dinneen on rail safety

Subscribe to “The Ethanol Report” with this link.

Senate Dems Against Obama on Biodiesel Proposal

nbb-senatorsNormally, they would be considered pretty staunch allies of President Obama. But a group of Democratic U.S. Senators have taken the Administration to task for its handling of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to drastically reduce the amount of biodiesel required to be blended into the Nation’s fuel supply.

“The EPA’s preliminary November rule will be disastrous,” said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, normally one of the president’s closest allies in the Senate, adding how the proposal is causing grave uncertainty in the biodiesel market. “We need more certainty of growth in this industry that is going to keep creating good paying jobs right here in America and serve the needs of America’s energy future.”

North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp put the group together and echoed Durbin’s sentiments. She cited a new National Biodiesel Board survey that shows that nearly 80 percent of biodiesel operations have reduced production, nearly 60 percent idled production altogether or shut down a plant this year; two-thirds have reduced or is expecting to reduce their workforce, with 85 percent delaying or cancelling expansion plans. And just about every biodiesel producer surveyed blamed their reductions on the weak RFS and Congress’ inaction to extend the federal biodiesel tax credit.

“If you look at what this industry depends on from the U.S. Congress, it’s certainty, it is some measure of consistency in public policy. And I have to tell you, on that score, we have failed miserably,” Heitkamp said.

Minnesota’s Sen. Al Franken said he has talked to the President and EPA Gina McCarthy about this proposal and reiterated his belief that this is the wrong signal to investors… especially at a time when biodiesel’s sister fuel, cellulosic ethanol, is gaining support.

“This is not the time to tell investors that we’re backing off,” Franken said. Later on, Franken said his disappointment with the current RFS proposal is pretty obvious, while fellow Minnesotan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said they were all stunned by the lowering of the amount of biodiesel to be blended.

“We knew they might make some changes, but it was fairly drastic when you look at the numbers,” pointing out that ethanol’s numbers are down 1.4 billion gallons below 2014’s target and only 1.28 billion for biodiesel this year… a drastic reduction from 2013’s approximately 1.7 billion gallons produced.

Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly said it wasn’t the right move by EPA, but it could be fixed.

“They just made the wrong call. They have a chance to fix this and get it right. And what we want to do is make sure they have the right information, all the information they need, and if they do, then we’re expecting the right decision,” he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell from Washington state said one way she believes they can help is to change the federal tax incentive from a blender’s to a producer’s credit.

“We hope this will also produce some more predictability and certainty in the industry.”

Listen to the senators’ opening statements here: Senators Voice Biodiesel Concerns

Biodiesel Producers Cutting Back Due to Uncertainty

nbb-advancedNearly 80 percent of biodiesel producers nationwide have cut back or idled production this year, due to uncertainty in policy coming out of Washington, D.C. A new survey from the National Biodiesel Board shows that a weak Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress’ failure to extend the biodiesel tax incentive is also behind the drive by two-thirds of the producers to cut their workforces as well.

“Inconsistency in Washington is wreaking havoc on the U.S. biodiesel industry,” said Anne Steckel, NBB’s vice president of federal affairs. “It’s not just hurting these producers. It is a setback for local economies where these plants operate, for our environment, for our national energy security, and for drivers who are tired of ever-increasing fuel prices that result from the petroleum industry’s monopoly at the pump.”

Among the other survey findings:

78 percent have reduced production versus 2013
57 percent have idled production altogether or shut down a plant this year
66 percent have reduced workforce or anticipate reducing workforce
85 percent have delayed or canceled expansion plans

The producers nearly universally attributed the industry decline to the weak RFS proposal and loss of the tax incentive.

NBB also attended a news conference in Washington today, where six U.S. Democratic Party senators, along with some biodiesel producers from across the country, blasted the Obama Administration for the EPA proposal, as well as the congressional inaction (we’ll have more on what they had to say tomorrow).

asteckelAfter the senators’ and producers’ remarks, Anne told me while the policy has been uneven and caused the uncertainty for producers, she is appreciative of the steadfast support from the lawmakers at today’s event.

“It’s a strong support of biodiesel, and I think that bodes well for us, as we look for EPA to make this final decision on raising the RFS volumes for biodiesel. We’re very hopeful that this strong support will resonate with the Administration,” she said.

Listen to what Anne had to say after the news conference: Anne Steckel, NBB’s vice president of federal affairs

EPA Chief Explains RFS Proposal

epa-mccarthyThe administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency explained her agency’s proposal to lower the volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting meeting in Washington DC this week.

“Let me begin by reiterating that this administration sees renewable fuels as a big part of our way to adapt to climate change,” said Gina McCarthy. “I also know that it helps to provide some certainty in the rural economy and to create jobs.”

McCarthy explained that she went through the “gestation period” of renewable fuels. “It was my job to get the Renewable Fuel Standard originally done,” she said. “We were significantly challenged this year because of the high increase in the numbers in the statute and what we believed an inability to get all of the ethanol into the system and usable” which was why she said they “took a re-look at the numbers.”

She says they know “that re-look was not appreciated” by the agriculture community and others, but that’s why they are considering the comments received on the proposal very carefully. “I think you will see those comments reflected in the final rule,” she concluded.

Listen to McCarthy’s comments here: McCarthy RFS comments to farm broadcasters