The Littlest Lobbyist for Ethanol

ace14-dc-ethan1Wearing a tie and sporting a “Don’t Mess with the RFS” button, 10-year-old Ethan Fagen was the youngest of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway marchers this week on Capitol Hill.

Ethan came along with his grandfather, Ron Fagen of Fagen, Inc., and was right in the trenches handing out materials and talking about the benefits of ethanol, like how good it is for the environment compared to fossil fuels. “Think in 200 years if you run ethanol there will be cleaner air for the next generation,” said Ethan, who is part of that next generation.

ace14-dc-fagensSitting in the front as the ACE Fly-in participants heard from government officials, Ethan caught the attention of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who thought it was “pretty cool” he was there for the event.

In my interview with Ethan, he told me that he would like to be a farmer someday and grow corn and have cattle. It’s interesting that if you add two letters to Ethan’s name, it becomes ethanol. Interview with Ethan Fagen, ACE Fly-in Participant


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

ACE Takes Ethanol Message to Friends and Foes

ace14-dc-alversonThere were over 25 battalions of ethanol troops on Capitol Hill this week to fight for the honor of biofuels, bringing the message to both friends and foes in Congress.

American Coalition for Ethanol president Ron Alverson, a South Dakota farmer and board member for Dakota Ethanol, says the teams had appointments with the offices of more than 130 senators and representatives, and he thought they were well received, even in enemy territory. “We went into what we thought were going to be some pretty hard places – representatives from Alabama, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,” he said. “They were very cordial and they listened well … we were really pleased.”

ace14-dc-johannsWhen meeting with friends like Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), the ethanol supporters delivered messages of gratitude and asked advice for approaching less friendly lawmakers. They also provided “ammunition” for allies in the form of the packets of the latest information to defend against some of the more popular arguments against ethanol, such as food versus fuel and engine issues with higher blends. “We’ve got some really good arguments and good data…all we can do is go out and tell our story,” said Alverson.

Listen to an interview with Alverson here: Interview with Ron Alverson, South Dakota farmer and American Coalition for Ethanol president


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

Ag Secretary Takes Time on Ag Day for Ethanol

ace14-dc-vilsackThere are lots of activities for National Agriculture Day going on today in Washington DC, including a big celebration unveiling a statue of Dr. Norman Borlaug in the Capitol, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack still took time to meet with members of the American Coalition for Ethanol in town this week to visit Congressional offices

“The country needs a robust renewable fuel industry,” said Vilsack. “It provides choice for consumers and less cost gas at the pump. It helps to create hundreds of thousands of jobs which is important for the economy. It stabilizes farm income, it’s better for the environment, and it makes us a safer nation because we’re less reliant on others for our energy and fuel sources. So we need to continue to have a robust commitment to this industry, we need to expand it and grow it.” Brief interview with Secretary Vilsack after ACE visit

The secretary spoke to the more than 80 ethanol industry about what USDA is doing to achieve that goal, including finding creative ways to increase higher ethanol blend pumps, promoting exports of ethanol to Japan, India and China, and continuing to work towards encouraging use of higher blends in this country.

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

Big Turnout for ACE Biofuels Beltway March

ace14-dc-brianAn enthusiastic crowd of more than 80 ethanol supporters from 15 states are chomping at the bit to be set loose on Capitol Hill to visit the offices of Congress members and educate them about the importance of biofuels during the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway March.

“We’ve got people from all walks of life here,” said ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings. That includes not just ethanol producers and corn farmers, but bankers, truckers, cattle ranchers and students. “It shows the diversity of this industry, the breadth and depth of support we have out there in the grassroots for ethanol.”

ace14-dc-crowdJennings says 40 percent of the group gathered for this sixth annual DC event have never visited the office of a Congressional representative before. “We try to give them some advice,” he said. “Most importantly, tell your story.”

The ACE group is hearing this morning from the Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Special Assistant to the president for Energy and Climate Change before heading to the Hill to meet with congressional representatives.

Listen to my interview with Brian here: Interview with Brian Jennings, ACE

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

Farmers Offered Incentive to Use Propane

perc-farmFarmers are being offered an incentive to use clean-burning propane in their operations. During the recent Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Tx., Mark Leitman, director of business development and marketing for the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), talked to Tom Steever with Brownfield Ag News and told him that his council is funded by a 4/10-of-a-cent checkoff that helps research, safety and training programs, and includes a commitment to ag-based operations in the Propane Farm Incentive Program.

“We’re constantly looking for new technologies to invest in, trying to find a new application for propane in agriculture or make a grain dryer, for example, and make it better,” he said, adding that new propane engines are much more efficient than the older models, boosting output by 25 percent or more, as demonstrated from their non-scientific findings from last year’s farm incentive program that had farmers reporting a 36 percent reduction in fuel use and 57 percent in cost savings. That’s why he’s optimistic they’ll get more farmers to sign up for this year’s incentive. “We’d love farmers to take advantage of our Farm Incentive program, where they could receive an incentive of up to $5,000.”

Mark admitted a perfect storm of issues – big crop drying years and a colder than usual winter, among other things – did cause a significant spike in prices for propane this year, but he believes some important lessons were learned that will help his members keep prices more stable in the future.

“We’re taking a look at the infrastructure and trying to figure out where our organization can invest in ways to improve things so we’re better prepared moving forward,” he said.

More information on the incentive program is available at Agpropane.com.

Listen to Mark’s interview with Brownfield Ag News here: Mark Leitman, PERC

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

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’s Voice Heard at Commodity Classic

white1It might not be a biofuels convention per se, but the recently completed Commodity Classic in San Antonio attracted lots of producers and advocates for the green fuels. Previously, I talked to Joe Jobe from the National Biodiesel Board about his group’s participation in the annual meeting of corn, wheat, soybean and sorghum growers. At the booth next door was another group in the biofuels game, the Renewable Fuels Association, representing the ethanol industry. RFA’s Director of Market Development Robert White said that they’re glad to come out and talk with the thousands of corn farmers attending who are a big part of the main feedstock for ethanol and invest heavily themselves in the industry.

“It’s a good place for us to be. It’s actually nice to go into a friendly environment every once in a while,” he said.

Of course, the biggest thing they heard at the event was the concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to cut a billion gallons of ethanol from the Renewable Volume Obligations, the amount of ethanol required to be blended into the Nation’s fuel supply. Robert said they need to counter some of the myths that petroleum companies are trying to spread with fact-based arguments in favor of ethanol.

“And it has to be strategic, because if the opposition to the [Renewable Fuels Standard] is a fire hose, we’re a dripping faucet, and we have to make sure it’s a strategic approach and it’s fact-based because if we got caught stretching the truth, they’d never forget it,” he said.

Robert went on to say that despite the comment period for the EPA being over, it’s important to keep letting Washington know where ethanol and all biofuels proponents stand.

“Don’t become complacent. Keep reaching out to elected officials, EPA and the White House to make sure they know how important this is to individual farming operations and rural America.”

Listen to my interview with Robert here: Robert White, RFA

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

EPA Biodiesel Proposal, Tax Credit Priorities for ASA

classic14-asa-murphySoybean growers attending the recent Commodity Classic see the government’s proposal to cut biodiesel and the expiration of the federal biodiesel tax credit as their top priorities to take on this year. At a news conference at the annual meeting of corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers in San Antonio, American Soybean Association (ASA) Chairman Danny Murphy, a grower from Mississippi, said their first priority is to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reverse its proposal that would effectively cut in half the amount of biodiesel to be required to be blended into the Nation’s fuel supply.

“We have asked our soybean farmers to make comments, and we’ve had hundreds of farmers express their concern to EPA about the proposed level and what it would do to the capability and potential of the biodiesel industry,” he said. “These proposed regulations would reduce the production over the next year or two and really stifle the growth in a really valuable market for soybean farmers.”

In a separate interview with Cindy, Danny said, based on what he’s heard from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the folks at EPA might be having some second thoughts about their own proposal. “So we hope that means they’ll make some changes and allow this biodiesel industry to grow,” he said.

He added ASA supports the extension of the $1-a-gallon federal tax credit for biodiesel, which expired at the end of December. He believes it could be reinstated as part of a tax extenders package, but he would also be happy to see the stand-alone legislation proposed by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) get passed.

Listen to Danny’s portion of the ASA news conference here: American Soybean Association Chairman Danny Murphy

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Arming for a Fact-Based Fight Over Ethanol

bernens1It’s not always fact-based arguments proponents of ethanol are up against when battling Big Oil. But that’s why it’s all more important to make sure you have good facts on your side in the fight. Farmers who attended the recent Commodity Classic in San Antonio were able to sit in on a session titled, “Biofuels and the Renewable Fuels Standard, A Farmer’s Avenue to American Energy Independence,” to make sure they can talk about the success stories and silence ethanol’s critics.

“Because of our success, we’ve had Big Oil really come after us and say, ‘We’re not going to lose anymore market share,’” says Jack Bernens, session moderator and marketer of Syngenta’s Enogen corn, specifically designed for ethanol production. “When monopolies get threatened, they like to push back hard.”

Hear more of what Jack had to say here: Jack Bernens, Syngenta

jennings1Jack was joined on the panel by Brian Jennings with the American Coalition for Ethanol, who echoed Jack’s view that you’re not necessarily battling facts when it comes to taking on some of the myths put out by the petroleum industry.

“The message I was trying to relay to the corn growers is stay involved, remain engaged, get your neighbors and friends involved, and know that this isn’t a fact-based fight. When the fight is about facts, we always win,” Brian says, adding that ethanol doesn’t have to stoop to the lies and scare tactics of Big Oil.

Listen to Brian’s interview here: Brian Jennings, American Coalition for Ethanol

doxtad1Another effective tool in the fight is showing the positive change ethanol has brought to Rural America, creating better markets for farmers’ corn, helping the country achieve energy independence, and building up communities, like the one that Northwest Iowa corn farmer James Doxtad comes from. He says while many folks back in his home state are aware of the good the renewable fuel has brought to the heartland, too many people in the country just don’t know. “It’s amazing how many people out there are unaware of the advantages of ethanol. Ethanol is a good thing, and we’re producing a good product, and we’re doing it for a good reason.” he says.

Check out James’ interview here: James Doxtad, Holstein, Iowa

Meanwhile, all three might get some help spreading the word as Syngenta released a new documentary video titled, “Ethanol: Fueling Rural America’s Future – One Community at a Time,” that provides a platform for farmers, ethanol producers and industry advocates to share their passion for an industry critical to the future of agriculture and rural America.

Biodiesel Finds Allies at Commodity Classic

jobe1Commodity Classic is the annual meeting that attracts more than 7,000 corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers, but it’s also a great place to find biodiesel and ethanol producers. Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) says they make sure to connect with their allies from the commodity groups, especially those soybean growers.

“Biodiesel is made from a variety of feedstocks, but soy has always been the predominant feedstock for biodiesel and will be going forward,” he says, although corn oil from ethanol plants and animal fats have been making their mark in the green fuel as well. “The soybean leadership has really created the roots for biodiesel, and we still come to connect with our soybean farmer friends and leaders and talk about the status of biodiesel.”

And there was plenty to talk about at Commodity Classic when it comes to biodiesel. The double-whammy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposing to cut in half the amount of biodiesel to be blended into the Nation’s fuel supply and the expiration of the $1-a-gallon federal biodiesel tax credit has made for plenty of conversations. Joe is really perplexed at the cut to the share of biodiesel in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) considering how biodiesel is able to make up a lot possible shortfalls from cellulosic and blend wall issues facing ethanol.

“Biodiesel filled virtually the whole advanced biofuel pool, not just the biomass-based diesel pool. And because biodiesel has been so successful, the advanced biofuel goals have been met or exceeded every single year of the [RFS, despite] other advanced biofuels not coming online as quickly as hoped,” Jobe says.

The soybean growers Jobe and his folks have been able to connect with at Commodity Classic have been big allies in the push to get the RFS levels restored, but he’s also seeing help coming from corn growers who obviously have a bigger stake in what happens to ethanol but are pushing to keep the RFS as it was intended because of how it lifts all biofuels. He’s optimistic all of their efforts will be successful. “We have to believe the EPA is going to do the right thing, because the right thing is so easy and so obvious,” said Jobe.

Listen to my interview with Joe here: Joe Jobe, CEO of NBB at Commodity Classic

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Vilsack Focused on Ways to Help Biofuels

classic14-vilsack1Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his discussions with his counterpart at the Environmental Protection Agency don’t focus on the message that biodiesel and ethanol advocates are already pushing: abandoning the current proposal that would cut the amount of biofuels mixed into the Nation’s fuel supply.

“I’m looking for ways to help this industry, regardless of what EPA does,” Vilsack told a group of reporters gathered at Commodity Classic, the annual meeting of corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers in San Antonio. While pointing out that he has been a long-time supporter of biofuels, he said it doesn’t make sense to repeat what EPA administrator Gina McCarthy is already hearing in the thousands of comments her agency has received. Vilsack believes a great way forward is marketing ethanol and biodiesel as exports. “Our team has put together a plan to expand trade promotion on biofuels by including biofuels folks on a new trip to China,” as well as planned pitches to India and Japan.

Vilsack added they can also address infrastructure issues to make sure that is not a barrier to getting more biofuels into the system. He sees making sure biodiesel and ethanol are successful as matters of national security importance, environmental concern, and economic interest. He just wants to make sure his Cabinet colleague has all the information he can provide her.

“Bottom line is: we’re going to continue to help this industry as best we can, advocate for it, and trust that EPA at the end of the day makes the right set of decisions.”

Listen to his remarks here: Vilsack Talks RFS at Commodity Classic

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Idea Leads to Cellulosic Ethanol, Scholarship

classic14-basf-soyAn idea that started back when he was just an elementary school student has led a Tennessee high schooler to picking up a substantial scholarship that he says will help him further his own energy business. Caleb Brannon of Puryear, Tenn. was selected as the recipient of the 2014-2015 ASA Secure Optimal Yield (SOY) Scholarship, a $5,000 award presented to an outstanding high school senior who has achieved high academic and leadership requirements, and is planning to pursue a degree in an agriculture-related field at an accredited college or university.

“I’m really thankful to the American Soybean Association and BASF who were so generous in this scholarship,” he says. Brannon, a senior at Calloway County High School, will pursue a degree in agricultural business at Murray State University, Murray, Ky. beginning this fall. He already has his very own business, Brannon Agri-Energy, a company focusing on cellulosic ethanol that he actually thought up way back in the fifth grade!

“Our family farm was in a partnership with the University of Tennessee to grow switchgrass in a pilot program to be bailed and put in a coal-fired plant [in Alabama].” While other area farmers gave up after a few years, it led Brannon to researching other crops for what is now his cellulosic ethanol business, finding his own markets.

He adds that the scholarship money will free up what he would have spent on college to invest back into his business. But he says this is more than just his future; it’s the Nation’s future.

“I want to help our country become just a little bit more energy independent. That’s really important to me.”

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Brannon here: Interview with BASF SOY Scholarship Winner


BASF at the 2014 Commodity Classic Photos

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