Importance of Biofuels in Rural Revitalization

The expansion of biofuels will play a significant role in the revitalization of rural America, according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“Why not create biofuel refineries and renewable energy plants that create jobs and markets for a product that otherwise might not be valued as much,” said Vilsack during a Rural Summit in Missouri on Thursday. “Why not create opportunities for the bioeconomy to respond to challenges like we have down in the Gulf.”

Vilsack says we need to build both the production and distribution systems for renewable fuels. “We’re working hard to get that long term commitment for the financial support. We want to figure out ways to make sure that we get the credit that is necessary to build these biorefineries and maintain them through tough times. We want to increase research and development in advanced biofuels and feedstocks and figure out how to do things more efficiently,” said Vilsack.

The National Summit, held in Hillsboro, Mo., culminates the Rural Tour Secretary Vilsack led last year to 22 states.

E85 Now Available in Tullahoma, TN

Edwards Oil Company has opened the first E85 station in Coffe County, Tennessee. According to WDEF.com, the Shell Quik Mart on the corner of 41A and Hwy 55 in Tullahoma is now available for flexible fuel vehicle (FFV) owners.

“We are pleased and excited to be the first and only station in Coffee County. Our customers who own flexible-fuel vehicles have been asking for it, and now they have a choice to refuel their vehicles with a product that reduces air pollution, lowers our dependence on foreign oil, and helps support American farmers,” said Edwards Oil Company President Jonathan Edwards.

In 2008, Edwards Oil opened their first E85 fueling location at the Quik Mart #14 on Nashville Highway Columbia and at Quik Mart #10 on North Ellington Parkway in Lewisburg, Tennessee. Following these facilities, Edwards opened a third E85 site in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

“More and more stations across Tennessee are offering their customers a choice of E85 and B-20. We are excited to see Edwards Oil leading the way in Coffee, Marshall, Maury and Bedford counties by offering alternative fuels to their customers” said Atha Comiskey, Coordinator of Clean Cities of Middle Tennessee Coalition. “Seeing businesses such as Edwards Oil now offering renewable fuel choices is a good thing for those of us wanting to use alternative fuel.”

Currently, there are 33 E85 stations in the state of Tennessee.

Challenges Undermine Clean Energy Future

“If we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction — if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs — we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.”

That is what President Obama said in his speech at Carnegie Mellon University on Wednesday. He stressed the need to fully embrace a clean energy future because “without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month — including countries in dangerous and unstable regions. In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security. It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.”

Renewable Fuels Association LogoHowever, the Renewable Fuels Association notes that environmental activists continue seeking to undermine the growth of biofuels as a way to displace fossil fuels by using unproven theories like Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) and Global Rebound Effect.

RFA points to a new paper published this week in Environmental Research Letters by the originator of the ILUC theory, environmental attorney Tim Searchinger, that suggests the climatic effects of using biomass for energy are no different than using fossil fuels. “By using Searchinger’s logic, a beverage can made from recycled aluminum is the same as a can made from aluminum that was just mined from the ground,” said RFA president Bob Dinneen. “That simply doesn’t make sense, nor does it do anything to break America’s addition to oil.”

According to RFA, the latest scientific evidence clearly shows ethanol production is both environmentally responsible as well as increasingly sustainable, and they are calling on California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) to keep its promise to use the “best available science” in reevaluating its Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS). RFA has written the board twice, urging the immediate adoption of new research from Purdue University that shows ARB overestimated corn ethanol’s potential land use effects by a factor of two. In a letter sent last week to the board, Dinneen expressed concern that ARB is “shirking its commitment to use the best available science and is taking the new Purdue results too lightly.” Adopting new scientific data from Purdue University would reduce corn ethanol’s potential indirect land use change (ILUC) penalty by 50 percent.

SD Blender Pump Program Success

South Dakota has just concluded the sign up period for a blender pump program that offers gas station owners $10,000 per blender pump they install.

The program was created by legislation from State Representative Mitch Fargen with the funding coming from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Grant applications were accepted April 1 through May 28, and more than 100 applications were submitted.

ACEThe American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) praised the grant program that will greatly enhance consumer fuel choice in South Dakota. “This is an outstanding opportunity for South Dakota gas stations, and once the station owners heard about the grant program, it basically sold itself – as evidenced by the fact that the number of grant applications exceeded the goal of the program,” said Ron Lamberty, Vice President of Market Development for ACE.

The legislation passed earlier this year approved $1 million for retailers in South Dakota to install blender pumps for ethanol up to 85 percent.

Ethanol Plants Improve Efficiency

Ethanol plants continue to increase in efficiency. A new University of Illinois at Chicago study of facilities that produce most of the nation’s ethanol found that the energy needed to make a gallon of the corn-based fuel decreased on average by about 30 percent within the past decade.

The study, conducted by Dr. Steffen Mueller at the Energy Resources Center at the university and funded by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, surveyed 90 of the 150 dry mill ethanol plants operating during 2008. Results were compared to a 2001 survey conducted by BBI International on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 2001, ethanol plants used an average of 36,000 Btu of thermal energy and 1.09 kWh of electrical energy, per gallon of ethanol. They also produced 2.64 gallons of ethanol per bushel. Ethanol plants in 2008 used an average of 25,859 Btu of thermal energy and 0.74 kWh of electricity per gallon of ethanol produced – that’s 28 and 32 percent less than 2001, respectively. Ethanol per bushel of corn, meanwhile, increased 5.3 percent to 2.78 gallons per bushel.

The findings may prove useful to state and federal energy policy makers studying the pros and cons of fuels based on their “full life-cycle” — the total energy needed to create a fuel compared to its energy output, the greenhouse gases emitted during production, the water used in production, and other factors.

“Policy makers rightfully pay attention to life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of fuels,” said Mueller. “Biofuel refineries, including corn ethanol plants, are in a rapid innovation phase.”

He said his survey shows that adoption of new technologies reduces energy production needs since many older dry mill ethanol plants installed energy efficiency retrofits during that time period.

“Wrong” to Candidate’s Ethanol, Biodiesel Bashing

A candidate for the U.S. Senate from Iowa has responded to one of his rivals statements calling ethanol and biodiesel subsidies “bologna, bologna” by calling the statement “wrong, wrong!”

During the recent debate on Iowa Public TV for the Democratic nomination to face presumptive Republican nominee Sen. Charles Grassley, former state Sen. Tom Fiegen bashed the support for ethanol and biodiesel, blaming the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on “drilling for natural gas because all of our ethanol plants are fired by natural gas.”

Rivals former state Rep. Bob Krause and Roxanne Conlin disagreed. In fact, Krause called Fiegen’s evaluation “wrong, wrong,” and pointed out:

Ethanol has been an important thing for Iowa because we’ve been able to keep the protein of the corn and get rid of the carbohydrates of the corn. I think that if you talk to anybody, yeah it’s an infinite industry, yeah there are some substantial subsidies but if we don’t push in that direction what else are we going to have. Are we going to go out and deep drill some more and give those subsidies or subsidize with troops in Iraq ? Are we going to do that? That’s a subsidy too.

Conlin added that the real subsidies are going to the richest industries in the world, Big Oil, and [w]e’re sending all kinds of money to people who hate us, $100 million a day to Iran .

The latest Public Policy Polling poll in the Des Moines Register has Fiegen far behind both Conklin (48 percent) and Krause (31 percent), attracting just 8 percent of potential voters.

Ethanol Industry Teams with Veterans

For another year, the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC), the Ethanol Across America education campaign, and the FlexFuel Vehicle (FFV) Club paid homage to U.S. Military Vetarans on Memorial Day. The groups teamed with Volunteers of Underage Military Service (VUMS) at the national Memorial Day parade in Washington D.C. to highlight the role of energy and national security.

According to the Ethanol Across America press release, more than 20,000 attended the parade through the nation’s capitol and honored hundreds of veterans.

“Our slogan is There is no National Security without Energy Security,” said Marine Lt. Col. (ret) William C. Holmberg, a VUM and a board member of the American Council On Renewable Energy. “Groups like CFDC, Ethanol Across America, the Flexible Fuel Vehicle Club, the Renewable Fuels Association, and ACORE work every day to increase that awareness. Marching together in the shadow of the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the memorials helps people get the connection that much of the unrest around the globe has links to oil. Increasing our supply of domestic fuels makes our nation safer and more secure, plain and simple.”

The procession included the CFDC/Ethanol Across America FlexFuel Chevy Avalanche and the Flexible Fuel Vehicle Club’s Chevy Tahoe, the Renewable Fuels Association’s Ford E85-Electric Hybrid Escape, and several electric hybrid vehicles.

“Under any circumstances it would be an honor for us to be part of the salute to all those who have served. Our generation sees the loss of jobs, wealth, and military cost of importing more than 60% of our oil, and we have an opportunity to do something about it,” said Douglas A. Durante, Director of the Ethanol Across America program. “If reducing our dependence on oil keeps us out of one less conflict, and keeps young Americans from having to be memorialized, then we should all be working toward that goal.”

According to FlexFuel Vehicle Club President Burl Haigwood, the parade provided an opportunity to increase public awareness that we can do something about it, right now. “With nearly 8 million flex fuel vehicles on the road today, if we ran those vehicles on clean, domestic fuels like ethanol we could reduce our reliance on unstable regimes and reduce the military costs of protecting our oil interests. Consumers can utilize the flex fuel vehicles they already own and look at the flex fuel vehicle option for future purchases,” said Haigwood.

Everyone Wins in Ethanol Border Battle

Everyone was declared a winner in a Minnesota-Wisconsin border battle this week between two fuel retailers on opposite sides of the St. Croix River.

The promotional event on Thursday featured a rush-hour special where both stations sold E85 (85 percent ethanol fuel) at an 85 cents per gallon discount from 4-6 pm. The promotion was supported by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Holiday Companies, Erickson Oil, American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest and MN & WI Clean Air Choice Teams.

It was all in good fun as Alice in Dairyland (aka Cheryl O’Brien), Wisconsin’s official agricultural ambassador, squared off with the University of Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher. However, when it came right down to it, Bob Moffit with the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest reports that the Wisconsin station ultimately won the border battle, selling 589 gallons of E85 during the two-hour promotion, while the Minnesota station sold 447 gallons.

Thanks to Bob for the photo!

Ethanol Industry Refutes Global Rebound Theory

First it was the unprovable Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) theory. Now ethanol is being challenged by a new “what goes around comes around” hypothesis called the “Global Rebound Effect.”

Earlier this week, the Clean Air Task Force filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency over the Renewable Fuel Standard for failing “to account for the “global rebound effect” when analyzing the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.”

This theory goes on the assumption that, “By displacing some gasoline from the US market, the RFS reduces overall demand for petroleum, which in turn leads to lower prices, increased consumption, and higher greenhouse gas emissions in other countries. If EPA had considered the “global rebound effect” in its analysis of different biofuels, only a few of those fuels would have met Congress’s emissions reduction requirements.”

Using this theory, ANY action the United States might take to reduce gasoline consumption – from using more ethanol to increasing vehicle fuel efficiency – will result in INCREASED gasoline use elsewhere in the world. As Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen puts it, “Whatever environmentalist activists call this new theory, I call it nonsense.”

RFA is is challenging the lawsuit
and the whole concept of Global Rebound Effect. “To penalize a technology, any technology, that reduces American oil consumption for any potential oil use in other nations is asinine,” said Dinneen. “Environmentalists are in favor of precious little these days, but by applying their new logic even efforts to improve efficiencies such as gas mileage must suffer a carbon penalty. It simply defies logic.”

That is indeed what the theory says, according to Steven Stoft, founder of the Global Economic Policy Center. In something he wrote last year called, “Corn Whiskey vs. the Climate,” Stoft said, “More ethanol use causes less oil to be imported, which causes a lower world “oil” price, which causes more liquid-fuel use worldwide. This same effect applies to conserving oil as well as to replacing it with ethanol, or even to pumping more oil from Alaska.”

RFA is also challenging the lawsuit claims that EPA is using overly optimistic assumptions about the nature of ethanol production in 2022, implicitly implying little improvement will occur in ethanol production technology between now and then. “To assume that no further innovation will occur in America’s ethanol industry is akin to believing the iPad is the final product from Apple,” said Dinneen.

The case, and RFA’s challenge to it, has been filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Biodiesel, Ethanol Vehicles Win EcoCAR Challenge

Two biodiesel-powered and one ethanol vehicle took top honors in the latest EcoCAR competition.

This press release says a biodiesel extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) from Mississippi State University won first place in the General Motors and Department of Energy-sponsored EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge finals in San Diego, with Virginia Tech earning second place with an ethanol-powered EREV design and Penn State coming in third building a biodiesel EREV vehicle:

The competition challenges university engineering students from across North America to re-engineer a GM-donated vehicle to minimize the vehicle’s fuel consumption and emissions, while maintaining its utility, safety and performance. The winning teams will answer questions about their work and vehicles during an online chat on Friday, June 4 at 3 p.m. EDT.

During the second year of the EcoCAR competition, the teams utilized cutting-edge automotive engineering processes, such as Hardware in the Loop (HIL) simulation, to move their designs into the physical vehicles. Once the vehicles were built and rolled out of their respective Green Garages – or design and construction shops – they went through a series of safety and technical tests at GM’s Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., similar to those conducted on production vehicles. Each of the cars was evaluated based on the ability to decrease fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and maintain consumer acceptability in the areas of performance, utility and safety.

The Mississippi State EcoCAR team chose to design an EREV hybrid with a 21.3 kWh A123Systems battery pack, which provides an electric range of 60 miles. It’s also equipped with a 1.3 L GM turbodiesel engine and 75 kW UQM generator in a series plug-in configuration. During testing, the vehicle’s fuel economy stood out, achieving 118 miles per gallon gas equivalent (combined city/highway cycle). In addition to the overall winner’s award, Mississippi State won nine additional awards, including performance events in auto-cross and acceleration.

Virginia Tech’s entry has a a 40 mile electric range, and Penn State’s EcoCAR vehicle includes a 4-cylinder 1.3 L biodiesel engine and achieved more than double the fuel economy of the baseline vehicle, or 57 miles per gallon gas equivalent.

New Report Shows Ethanol Saves Drivers Money

Memorial Day is right around the bend and this weekend marks the start of summer driving. According to AAA, nearly 28 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend alone, a number curtailed due to environmental concerns as well as concerns caused by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Yet there is good news for drivers as they are saving an average of $105 per year because of ethanol. This according to a report released today by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

The blending of ethanol into America’s fuel supply is saving consumers approximately 10 cents per gallon as compared to straight gasoline prices. According to RFA, at the wholesale level, ethanol has been selling at a 50-70 cent per gallon discount to gasoline before the 45 cent per gallon blender’s credit is taken into account. As a result, at a 10 percent ethanol blend (E10), the average American household is saving up to $105 per year.

“Domestic ethanol blends are a great bargain for consumers, saving them money at the pump while allowing them to support a truly American industry,” said RFA Vice President of Research Geoff Cooper. “Simply filling up with E10 instead of regular gasoline saves families money at a time when economic concerns and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are front of mind. Ethanol is part of the solution to both concerns.”

On another front, as the grills get fired up, ethanol continues to be incorrectly blamed for higher prices of meat due to the claim from ethanol opponents that grain prices are higher. Yet the study shows that grain prices are not higher. In fact, corn prices are nearly 20 percent lower than one year ago and less than half of what they were during the oil-fueled speculative commodity bubble in the summer of 2008.

In a recent column, influential commodity analyst Rick Kment writing for DTN said, “Ethanol continues to be the whipping boy, but blaming the fuel for today’s higher meat prices just doesn’t add up. In the past four months live cattle futures have increased 25 percent while corn prices have fallen nearly 13 percent.”

Cooper on behalf of RFA added, “Finally, and most importantly, Memorial Day is a hallowed holiday in America when the nation pauses to remember those defending and those who have defended this nation. We pay special tribute to those individuals and families who made the ultimate sacrifice. The RFA wishes to extend its appreciation on behalf of everyone involved in America’s ethanol industry.”

China on Fast Track for Celluosic Biofuel Production

Today COFCO, a leading producer and supplier of processed agricultural products, Sinopec, the world’s third largest oil refinery and Novozymes, the leader in biofuel enzyme development and production, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to take the next steps towards commercial production of cellulosic biofuels in China. As an element of the partnership, COFCO and Sinopec will build a cellulosic demonstration plant and Novozymes will produce the enzymes needed for production.

It is anticipated that the plant will be online in the 3rd Quarter of 2011 and is expected to produce three million gallons of bioethanol made from corn stover per year. One of the key elements that will make this cellulosic ethanol commercially competitive is the Cellic CTec2 enzyme developed and launched by Novozymes this past February. Once the plant is completed, it will be the largest demonstration facility converting ag waste into biofuel in China. Estimates show that China has more than 700 million metric tons of agricultural residue available per year and a recent study by Novozymes and McKinsey shows that the conversion of ag waste to biofuel has the ability to reduce China’s gasoline consumption by 31 million tons in 2020.

“In 2009, we forged this partnership in China to develop biofuel from agricultural waste; today, we are one step closer to producing commercial quantities,” said Michael Christiansen, President, Novozymes China. “With gasoline prices hovering around $4 per gallon in China, companies across the country are reaffirming their commitment to investing in development of clean, alternative fuel sources.”

The number of cars in China is expected to exceed 200 million by 2020 an increase from 130 million on the road today. To meet the demand, China launched an aggressive bioenergy plan of which cellulosic biofuel production is one component. In addition to lowering China’s gasoline needs, this portion of the plan will also reduce CO2 emissions by 90 million tons and provide 6 million new jobs.

The Auto Channel Fights for Ethanol

The Auto Channel has been a proponent of ethanol for quite some time and has given favorable coverage to the fuel. This week, Executive Vice President and Co-Publisher, Marc J Rauch, took it up a notch in defense of ethanol. In his piece, “The Auto Channel Fights for the Truth about Ethanol Versus Gasoline,” Rauch writes, “Bob [Gordon] and I have studied the issue of alternative fuels and energy and we’ve become very enthusiastic supporters of all the technologies…But most of all, we like ethanol. Why? Because ethanol can be used right now, anywhere in the U.S., and by most vehicles without any engine conversions.”

He then talks about higher ethanol blends and says that the reality is most conventional vehicles can use up to E50 without conversions and without being official flex-fuel vehicles. (For those of you following the E15 Waiver, the latest news is that E15 will probably pass but with a stipulation on what model years can use the fuel.) He then goes on to state that while many don’t believe that there is a ‘single bullet’ solution, he and Bob disagree and believe that ethanol, or alcohol fuel, is the solution to replace gasoline.

However, where it starts to get really interesting is when Rauch reiterates, “But the point of this story is to tell you about our fight to overcome the lies and misconceptions about ethanol that are promulgated by the oil and gasoline industries.” It looks like more and more people are finally seeing through the ethanol smear campaign that has been heavily active for the past three or so years.

Yet the highlight of the story is when Ruach takes on some anti-ethanol “experts” who came to light when consumers pointed to them as criticisms for his and Gordon’s support of ethanol. David Fridley, a scientist at the Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory in Northern California, and Jerry Taylor, a Senior Fellow at the CATO Institute in Washington, D.C. who was featured in a John Stossel story (20 Minutes) and also the author of, An Economic Critique of Corn-Ethanol Subsidies.”

Rauch writes, “After watching the Stossel/Taylor and Fridley videos I sent them both emails expressing how appalled I was at their lack of knowledge and recitation of lies, and offering various facts that contradict their statements.” Rauch published his correspondence with Taylor and it is a great piece of ethanol education for anyone who wants to learn more about the fuel.

So for you ethanol advocates out there, take a piece out of Rauch’s playbook (I don’t think he’ll mind if you’re spreading the good word about ethanol) and help him fight the good fight for ethanol. You can read Rauch’s piece in full, with supporting documentation here.

He Said, She Said – The Debate on Ethanol Tariffs

The debate rages on between the Renewable Fuels Association and the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) over whose fuel is better for America. Ultimately, UNICA wants in and RFA wants them out.

Earlier this week, UNICA planned a pump promotion in Washington D.C. at two gas stations where for a limited time, drivers would receive 54 cents off per gallon on their fuel purchase. This amount was chosen to highlight the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol and demonstrate to consumers that sugarcane ethanol saves them money at the pump. However, the promotion was canceled due to “political” reasons shortly after it was made public.

Brazil is currently lobbying to end the ethanol tariff in an effort to export more sugarcane ethanol to the United States and promotes that sugarcane ethanol is a “clean and affordable renewable fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 percent compared to gasoline and could help the United States cut its dependence on oil from the Middle East.” Earlier this year Brazil ended tariffs on imported ethanol and is hoping that the U.S. will follow suit.

Joel Velasco, UNICA’s chief representative in North America said of the event cancellation by Capitol Petroleum Group,”While we are unclear who caused this sudden shift in plans, one thing is certain: consumers win when businesses have to compete in an open market, because competition produces higher quality products at lower costs. UNICA will continue advocating for open market competition by encouraging Congress to end the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol.”

On the other side of the debate is RFA who is advocating for the tariff to stay in place. In a press statement released this week, Bob Dinneen, President and CEO, noted that Brazilian ethanol will not save consumers money at the pump but cost them more. According to the release, “A close look at the facts reveals that American ethanol is selling at a significant discount to Brazil’s. At today’s prices, a gallon of gasoline mixed with 10 percent American ethanol (E10) would be 11 cents Cheaper than a similar gallon using Brazilian ethanol. In fact, the gallon of gasoline with 10 percent Brazilian ethanol would be more expensive than straight gasoline.” Continue reading

RFA: Green Jobs Should Include Ethanol Tax Incentive

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is urging Congress to “include an extension of the expiring tax incentives for ethanol in any legislative package designed to promote green job growth and economic revitalization.”

Renewable Fuels Association LogoIn a letter sent to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, RFA encouraged the lawmakers to adopt the provisions of the Renewable Fuels Reinvestment Act that would extend through 2015 four key tax incentives for the production and use of ethanol from all feedstocks.

As the letter notes, “Ethanol has been an extremely useful weapon in the fight for energy independence and our efforts to promote more clean and renewable alternatives to imported petroleum based fuels.” The letter highlights the nearly 400,000 jobs ethanol has helped support, the reduction in oil imports by 364 million barrels in 2009, and the savings of approximately 10 cents per gallon of ethanol-blended fuel.

Specifically, the letter showcases the excitement generated by the opening of the Osage Bio Energy ethanol biorefinery in Hopewell, Virginia. According to company sources, more than 1,200 applications were received to fill the 43 full-time positions with the plant. Of the 43 people hired, roughly half were unemployed at the time of the job offer.

Read the letter here.