New EPIC Board Member Man of Many Hats

One of the newest board members of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council is a man of many hats. Ray Defenbaugh is the CEO of Big River Resources, a company that’s based in Southeast Iowa. The company already operates a one 100 million gallon ethanol plant and another is under construction.

But, Ray doesn’t just know ethanol production. He’s also quite the fiscally savvy farmer. Ray serves as chairman of the board for a $330 million bank.

That’s still not all. He serves as a director for the Renewable Fuels Association as well.

When asked about this latest “hat” though, Ray says ethanol possesses a “wide area of influence and effect.” He says the fuel is an excellent representation of value added agriculture, “bringing value right back into our Midwestern community right where it belongs.”

Chuck spoke with Ray at EPIC’s first annual meeting. You can listen to Chuck’s interview here:

Transition To A Bio Economy Conference Wrap Up

Corny GallagherTo wrap things up here at the Farm Foundation Transition To A Bio Economy conference I spoke with board member, Cornelius Gallagher. He says the conference brought together world class leaders who were able to listen to some fantastic presentations. I’ve posted interviews with almost all of them so please scroll back through them.

Corny, as he likes to be called, says that the conference accomplished what it was supposed to which is bringing leaders together to foster knowledge and provide attendees with a better understanding in a broad sense of the bio economy.

The next conference in the series will be held October 15-16 in St. Louis.

You can listen to my interview with Corny here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

What We Need To Know

Peggy CaswellWhat we know and what we need to know was Peggy Caswell’s, USDA-ERS, topic here at the Farm Foundation Transition To A Bio Economy conference. She says we need to know things about how farmers or the providers of biofuels and feed stocks are going to have to change the way they do business. She used the example of having to look at different types of contracts and financing.

She said that ethanol companies are going to need a consistent and reliable source of product and that farming by nature is very variable. So farmers will be taking big risks and that’s why contracting will be necessary. She also calls for a lot more research, something we heard earlier in the program from other speakers.

You can listen to my interview with Peggy here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Chevron in Biofuels

We heard from Chevron here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference since according to Paul Bryan, the company has made a major commitment to biofuels. He says they created a biofuels business unit about 2 years ago. Their focus is on 2nd generation biofuels that use non-food crops.

His talk focused on the integration in the biopetroleum business. He describes that as using bio-derived fuels that work with the existing petroleum infrastructure. One of the projects they’re involved with uses micro algae and he’s saying that it will be about 5 to 15 years before it’s in full volume production.

You can listen to my interview with Paul here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Post Update: Photo removed at Mr. Bryan’s request.

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Ethanol Investing Decline

Chris GroobeyThe issue of investment and financing for ethanol plants and bio refineries in general was addressed today by Chris Groobey, Baker & McKenzie, LLP. He works on project financing with investors and lenders and mostly in renewable fuels. He painted a pretty bleak picture.

In fact, he says the New York investment community is not interested in biofuels right now. He says they’re tapped out and that ethanol and biodiesel are not of interest to them at all. So with that being said, what’s next? He says there needs to be a combination of making more money from existing plants by co-locating other facilities or finding other sources of income from the same plant. He also thinks there needs to be more and bigger business structures.

He says this means we’re returning to more traditional models of rural development that take a longer term view. He recommends growing local agriculturally skilled management teams with people who understand farm risk.

You can listen to my interview with Chris here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

More Bio Economy Research Needed

Gale BuchananOur USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics is Gale Buchanan. He was here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference to talk about the need for research in a growing bio economy. In fact, he sees a need for a tremendous amount of research to address the opportunities presented by the whole energy picture.

He also talked about how impressed he was at last week’s Bio Energy Awareness Days in Washington, DC where 35 different universities made presentations.

You can listen to my interview with Gale here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Trucking Corn For Ethanol

Frank DooleyWhen it comes to infrastructure needs for a bio economy our rural road system is a key component. To speak about it here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference we heard from Frank Dooley, Purdue University. He sees a big increase in grain production, primarily in the midwest. With that comes a growing demand for transportation. He thinks we should be concerned because most of the corn will be moved by truck and that’s going to impact rural roads. He also sees an increase in rail transportation but not significantly.

He’s worked on a project with the state department of transportation in Indiana to study traffic flow changes and suggests that more of this type of research needs to be done. He says that a 100 million gallon ethanol plant will have up to 110 trucks in per day.

You can listen to my interview with Frank here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Transporting Biofuels By Rail

Paul HammesDuring our discussion on the infrastructure needs of a Transition To A Bio Economy, we heard from Paul Hammes, Union Pacific Railroad. Of course his focus was on rail infrastructure and as it relates to biofuels. Specifically, he spoke to the different pieces of that supply chain like rail cars, the rail network and unload/load capacity.

He says that the biofuels industry development happened quite quickly and that put some pressure on their network. In particular, it presented challenges at the destination markets for the unloading of ethanol. One of the challenges has been that ethanol is moved in small units and in concentrated areas. He see future challenges as developing rail infrastructure to meet capacity demands and more development at destination terminals.

You can listen to my interview with Paul here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Rural Development Policy

Tom DorrThe opening speaker for day two of Farm Foundation’s Transition To A Bio Economy conference is our USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development, Thomas Dorr. He talked about rural policy and we visited for a while before the session got started.

He says that rural policy is more important and timely a topic now than it has ever been, especially as we’re coming off the finalization of the 2008 Farm Bill. Some reasons include the huge growth in the deployment of broadband internet access and the demand for food and energy. With growth in rural communities people are starting to think differently when it comes to policy issues like conservation.

He pointed out that 95 percent of all rural income is off farm and that there haven’t been any new jobs in agriculture in recent years. So he says we need to look at unique uses of local resources for development but that development creates demands on infrastructure like water and sewer. He says that by meeting goals of replacing oil with renewable energy sources we’re creating a significant rural investment opportunity. So the question he poses to communities is “Are they willing to step up?”

Dorr has a long history with the Farm Foundation since he was a member of the round table prior to his appointment in Washington, DC. He also talks about the Foundation’s rural development opportunity tours and one that’s planned for this summer in Europe where he’ll be participating in a farmer to farmer dialogue.

You can listen to my interview with Tom here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

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EPIC’s Year of Opportunity

The Ethanol Promotion and Information Council has places to go if you ask the organization’s newly elected board president. Greg Kissek with Prairie Horizon Agri Energy says EPIC has come a long way, but there’s still much to accomplish.

Greg says he’s “looking forward to this year of opportunity” with EPIC.

Chuck spoke with Greg at EPIC’s first annual meeting. You can listen to Chuck’s interview here:

The Cost of Biomass

Sarah BrechbillSarah Brechbill, Purdue University, got to put her masters degree project on the stage today here at the Farm Foundation’s Transition To A Bio Economy conference. She looked at the cost to get biomass to a plant and specifically looked at switchgrass and corn stover.

She says that there’s really no one answer to what’s best for everyone. However, she did find that corn stover was generally cheaper. One reason is that it’s already being grown.

You can listen to my interview with Sarah here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

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Cellulosic Ethanol Co-Products

Danielle Julie CarrierWe hear a lot about co-products with ethanol production like the DDGS but what about in cellulosic ethanol production? Well, Danielle Julie Carrier, Arkansas State University is doing work on that subject.

I was very interested to hear that there are some possibilities. She’s working with switchgrass and they’ve found that if you wash the feedstock prior to the pre-treatment for ethanol production that you get a water mix with flavonoids which help reduce bad cholesterol. Co-products like this have potential and may help make the production of cellulosic ethanol more attractive.

You can listen to my interview with Julie here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Making Ethanol From Dry Peas

Abhishek GoelDuring our last session of the day here at the Farm Foundation, Transition To A Bio Economy Conference, our speakers talked about some feedstock and co-product issues of ethanol production. First up was Abhishek Goel, North Dakota State University. He did work on using dry peas to supplement corn in an ethanol plant. The idea was to reduce supply risk and increase profitability.

He says that in North Dakota corn supply is variable and since the state is the biggest producer of dry peas it seemed like a natural place to start. The work was done in 2007 and although prices have certainly changed he believes there are opportunities to supplement corn with other feedstock options.

You can listen to my interview with him here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Answering Ethanol Plant Location Questions

David PerkisOn the subject of locating a biorefinery we had another presentation on the subject here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference. This one was by David Perkis, Purdue University.

He says the purpose of his work is to answer questions that local decision makers have such as, Where to locate plants?, What do we have to prepare for?, What can we do to entice a plant to our area? and Do we have a chance? He says that factors in having an optimal location for an ethanol plant is access to sufficient corn stover and transportation distances.

You can listen to my interview with David here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Ethanol Plant Site Selection

Lance Andrew StewartBesides those out working in the industry we also heard from some university students today at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference. Lance Andrew Stewart is a grad student at the University of Tennessee. He did a very technical presentation on locating ethanol plants.

His work focused on the location determinants that attract potential plants in certain areas. He says that factors include, access to feedstocks like corn and locating away from an existing plant. He also made a point of saying that although plants can be very helpful to a rural community they must have enough infrastructure to support one.

You can listen to my interview with Lance here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album