Biofuels and Ag Groups Protest Anti-RFS Bill

mess-rfs U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today introduced legislation that would abolish the corn ethanol mandate in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as a co-sponsor. The move was immediately criticized by both ethanol and agricultural organizations.

“Senators Feinstein and Toomey continue to operate under the misguided assumption that the RFS is driving food prices higher” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen. “It is not. Corn is less expensive today than when the RFS was passed! As the World Bank recently concluded, ‘most of the contribution to food price changes from 1997-2004 and 2005-2012 comes from the price of oil.’”

“Just like their previous failed attempt, this legislation is incredibly shortsighted,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Nearly identical legislation has been introduced in the past and has always failed to gain any traction since a majority of senators understand the importance of homegrown, American renewable fuels. This bill would eviscerate the RFS – the most successful energy policy enacted in the last 40 years.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson says the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act would “cripple rural America’s economy and be an enormous step backwards for America’s goal of energy independence by a decade or more.”

National Corn Growers Association
board member Keith Alverson of South Dakota added that Congress should not turn its back on success with renewable fuels. “The Renewable Fuel Standard is working,” said Alverson. “With a second consecutive record crop, there is more than enough corn to meet all demands for food, fuel, feed, and fiber. Corn farmers have more than met our commitment on the RFS. There are many good reasons to continue this policy, and we look forward to working with Congress to support it.”

#NEC15 Travels Road Ahead for Higher Blends

nec15-robert-panelThe National Ethanol Conference featured a panel addressing the road ahead for higher blends.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) vice president for industry relations Robert White moderated the panel, which included Kristi Moriarty, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; John Eichberger, National Association of Convenience Stores; and Brian West with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“In the past, there was a lot of interest in the number of stations that offered E85 versus the volume. The number we’re looking for today is much different. It’s how many gallons are sold,” said White, pointing out that while some stations in lower populations might be going away, there are more stations going up in higher populations area, where more flex-fuel vehicles are available, pushing up the overall amount of higher blends sold.

Moriarty said their long-term studies on E10 show how the green fuel has not damaged equipment and should serve as an example of how E15 would also be fine. She also encouraged those in attendance to have some empathy for retailers, some who still have to meet the oil companies’ gasoline sales requirements, which ethanol can cut into. Eichberger, who comes from that retail perspective, said his group found the number of E85 pumps in the U.S. has increased 14 percent annually every year since 2007. And he said with fewer flex-fuel friendly stations available per each flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) as compared to those for regular fueled vehicles, more E85 pumps are certainly in the picture.

“There’s a lot of room for growth,” pointing out that while there is a 32-billion-gallon potential market for E85 (if all FFVs fueled at 100 percent), a more realistic goal is getting all the E85 stations by 2025 to sell at what the top 10 percent is selling now, making for a 4.5-billion-gallon E85 market.

West pointed out how good of an octane booster ethanol is and added that it is easier to get in a mid-level blend pump, such as E25, than it is to put in the infrastructure for a hydrogen-based pump.

White sent attendees off with a little job to do: talk to retailers about the benefits of selling ethanol, especially the higher blends.

“Talk to one retailer and ask them [to sell a higher blend],” said White. “Everyone in this industry needs to help the growth of this industry.”

Listen to more of this conversation here: NEC 15 Higher Blends panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Brazilian Ethanol Outlook at #NEC15

nec15-wagnerAt the 2015 National Ethanol Conference last week, the senior economist with a leading global agribusiness consultancy gave his competitive outlook of the Brazilian ethanol sector relative to the United States.

Owen Wagner with LMC International told the group gathered that while the last 40 years in general have been good to Brazilian ethanol, the industry there has had a sharp reversal of fortune the last couple of years. While in the early part of the 2000s, a favorable market led to 65 new mills being put into commission, flat prices for Brazilian ethanol and lower gasoline prices the last couple of years, led to 27 of those 65 plants shuttering between 2012 and 2014. In addition, with fewer exports going to the U.S. (dropping from 75 percent of Brazil’s exports to less than half now), partially due to the uncertainty with the Renewable Fuels Standard and cheaper corn ethanol in America, have really hit the industry hard. But what’s bad for Brazil seems to be helping producers in the U.S.

“The obvious move for refiners is to go with the cheaper product – corn ethanol from the U.S. What we’re forecasting [considering a poor sugarcane crop this year and tight ethanol supplies there], we see something like 220 million gallons per year [being exported from the U.S. to Brazil],” he said.

But Wagner said U.S. producers must be cautious because any higher amounts of exports of U.S. ethanol to Brazil could force that country’s government to take corrective action.

Listen to Wagner’s complete analysis here: Owen Wagner, LMC International

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

RFA Acquires E85Prices.com

e85prices-comThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has acquired E85prices.com, which is a crowdsourced website that offers updated prices for E85 and other ethanol flex-fuels – including E15 – from thousands of stations across the country. In addition to E85prices.com, RFA acquired 11 new websites and a new mobile app to strengthen its online presence and its ability to provide up-to-the-minute information on the availability and pricing of E85 and other ethanol flex-fuels.

E85prices.com and E85vehicles.com are the most visited of the 12 new sites now owned by RFA, with E85prices.com receiving approximately 4 million hits last year. E85prices.com has been a go-to source for consumers seeking E85 pricing information to help make informed fuel purchase decisions. The website also maintains a station locator, a database of all existing E85 stations and blender pump locations, and an online forum. Meanwhile, E85vehicles.com helps consumers locate or identify a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV).

“As the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) continues to be discussed in Congress, and the 2014-2016 RFS requirements remain under consideration at Environmental Protection Agency, we believe it is more important than ever to provide concrete information to decision-makers about E85, E15, and other flex-fuels,” said RFA vice president of Industry Relations Robert White. “At the same time, consumers are looking for more information on renewable fuels, and these websites have provided that service to millions of unique visitors each year.”

In July of 2014, RFA cited E85prices.com when it called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to update their Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) database which was missing nearly 1,000 stations. RFA will continue its efforts to ensure all station databases reflect the real world, and will work with DOE to fix the current discrepancies in their database.

The information on E85prices.com is crowdsourced, but White says RFA will confirm all station locations and ensure they are offering higher-level fuel blends.

I caught up with White as he arrive in Phoenix for the start of the 2015 Commodity Classic and he explained how important this acquisition is for the industry and consumers.
Interview with Robert White, RFA, on E85Prices.com

Global Energy Market Outlook at #NEC15

nec15-kingstonFluctuations in the world oil market do impact ethanol energy demand and, in turn, production. During the National Ethanol Conference, John Kingston with McGraw Hill Financial Global Institute broke down how the petroleum markets have reacted and what that has meant for the ethanol industry.

Kingston explained a variety of reports, such as the OPEC call and U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) information that has shown that U.S. oil production would drop, and now that is indeed being displayed not just on the theoretical level. That drop in oil production is also in response to an overall overage in the petroleum markets, which has pushed oil off its $100/barrel status down to nearly half of that now… with possibilities that it could drop to the $20s/barrel – an unthinkable drop from what was considered a “permanent high.” Part of what helped push those oil prices down has been a drop in gasoline demand. When oil is very cheap, it can make it much more difficult for ethanol producers to stay cost competitive. Adding in less gasoline for ethanol to be blended into, and those oil fluctuations are having an impact on ethanol. Kingston added that the government regulations on ethanol are adding to the issue.

“When you bring a government into a market, it tends not to operate as it would have otherwise. That volatility in the market [that has trickled down to ethanol producers] is quite substantial,” he said. “Ethanol will always be a a little more volatile than some of these petroleum-based products.”

Kingston said while the energy industries are creative in finding ways to stay profitable, they’ll just have to do it at much lower prices.

Listen to all of Kingston’s remarks here: John Kingston, McGraw Hill Financial Global Institute

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Advanced Ethanol Progress and Concerns

nec15-advance-panelWhile it’s making progress, there are still plenty of questions and concerns regarding advanced ethanol production. During the the 20th National Ethanol Conference, a panel of advanced ethanol producers talked about the challenges and opportunities facing their industry.

Advanced Ethanol Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman moderated the panel which included Bill Feehery of DuPont Industrial Biosciences (pictured at the podium), Adam Monroe of Novozymes, Paula Corollo with Beta Renewables, and Abengoa’s Chris Standlee. Coleman said while there are naysayers, who try to talk down the cellulosic industry, saying it’s not going fast enough or isn’t successful enough, he sees incredible progress over the last five years for the industry. But it’s not going to get easier.

“This is a crossroads and the part where it gets hard. This is the part where we diversify feedstock, introduce new technologies, and the [Environmental Protection Agency] has to look down and decide if we’re going to change the fuel markets at a fundamental level or just change them to where the oil industry is comfortable,” Coleman said.

Feehery’s presentation focused on the progress cellulosic ethanol has made, calling the recent advancements that are delivering a cleaner, more sustainable transportation fuel that’s also invigorating rural America’s economy. “It’s a victory of science, industry policy, and plain good, old-fashioned hard work, and it’s an accomplishment we all share together.”

Looking ahead, Feehery said it’s also important to look back at what has been successful to see the path forward. He pointed to efficiencies and technologies, such as enzymes, that are making cellulosic more affordable and more commercially viable. He’s also excited by how celluslosic ethanol is being embraced by American companies not just within the fuels markets, such as Procter & Gamble, which is using cellulosic ethanol in its formulation for Tide laundry detergent. He concluded that these technologies and adoptions by industry are key drivers in how cellulosic ethanol will grow in the years to come.

“What we see is the beginning of a bioeconomy in action,” Feehery said.

Listen to Feehery’s presentation before the group here: NEC 15 Advanced Ethanol Panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Ethanol Helps Create Jobs and More Jobs

Patriot Renewable Fuels in Annawan, Illinois

Patriot Renewable Fuels in Annawan, Illinois

At the National Ethanol Conference last week, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) released the latest economic study on the “Contribution of the Ethanol Industry to the Economy of the United States in 2014,” and found it to be better than ever in 2014.

Among the benefits of ethanol production in 2014 according to the study by ABF Economics:
• $52.7 billion to America’s gross domestic product
• 83,949 direct jobs
• 295,265 indirect and induced jobs
• $10.3 billion in federal, state and local taxes
• Displaced 515 million barrels of oil, the equivalent of $49 billion

John Urbanchuk, author of the study and managing partner of ABF Economics, concluded his analysis by noting, “The ethanol industry continues to make a significant contribution to the economy in terms of job creation, generation of tax revenue, and displacement of imported crude oil and petroleum products. The importance of the ethanol industry to agriculture and rural economies is particularly notable. Continued growth and expansion of the ethanol industry through new technologies and feedstocks will enhance the industry’s position as the original creator of green jobs, and will enable America to make further strides toward energy independence.”

The full study, prepared on behalf of the Renewable Fuels Association, can be found here.

Ethanol 2015 Outlook and Pocket Guide Available

rfa-outlook-2015at the 20th Annual National Ethanol Conference, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) released the updated Ethanol Industry Outlook and Pocket Guide to Ethanol for 2015.

RFA’s two most popular publications touch on every core issue facing the ethanol industry today, providing readers with the most up-to-date information available. New data and statistics give a sense to the incredible progress the industry has made and where it is headed with in-depth looks at key topics that include the Renewable Fuel Standard, energy security, the environment, impacts on the economy, U.S. agriculture, international trade, transportation, and cellulosic technology.

The 2015 Ethanol Industry Outlook and Pocket Guide to Ethanol are available in print and online at www.EthanolRFA.org.

Ethanol Conference Going Global Panel

nec15-global-panelThe theme of the 20th National Ethanol Conference was “Going Global,” and the title panel featured five international experts to discuss building ethanol demand in new markets.

Moderated by Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) general counsel Ed Hubbard, the panel included Pedro Paranhos of Eco-Energy; Lakeview Energy CEO Jim Galvin; Henrique Pacini of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Mike Dwyer with the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service; and Robert Wright with ePure.

Hubbard started off the conversation, pointing out that while the U.S. ethanol industry hit record-breaking levels of ethanol exports to the world – 836 million gallons in 2014 – there’s still room for growth.

“As long as U.S. made ethanol provides a valuable, cheaper and cleaner alternative to petroleum-based gasoline, it will continue to be sought all over the globe. This panel’s goal is to help you identify some opportunities, new and expanded, to address some of the challenges we face as we move forward,” Hubbard said.

Paranhos echoed those sentiments, as he broke down how Brazil has seen its overall ethanol market grow over the last 10 years but has plateaued in the last few. Part of that is some of the same issues U.S. ethanol producers are facing: economics and regulatory, in America’s case, the blend wall. The panel talked about how export markets are helped the most by mandates, which help fuel growth of ethanol. Presenters pointed out that producers need to consider sustainability and environmental factors to meet certain countries’ and regions’ requirements to get into those markets, which also, in turn, return better profits for ethanol plants.

Dwyer told those attending that ethanol has made tremendous global gains over the past few years – impressive when you consider the green fuel had to overcome the “food-versus-fuel” debate and a 54-cent-per-gallon tax on ethanol exports.

“In 2008, when I took over this job, if I had told you that the U.S. would become the world’s largest exporter of ethanol, you would have thought I was drinking that ethanol,” he said, pointing out how while gasoline consumption has dropped in the U.S., it’s growing worldwide, making American ethanol competitive on the global market. “A lot has happened in five years.”

The panel members said, even when you consider where ethanol has been and the obstacles ahead, there still is great potential for growth worldwide.

Listen to the panel’s complete remarks here: NEC 15 Going Global Panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

South Dakotan Wins E85 “Post Your Price” Contest

rfa-sd-e85-2During the National Ethanol Conference last week, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) announced the winner of the E85 “Post Your Price” contest.

Scott LeBrun of South Dakota was chosen at random to receive one year of free E85 in the contest, which was announced last October and concluded last Tuesday, asking individuals to submit photos of E85 prices nationwide. The photos received will assist RFA in gathering data on E85 prices to determine how the higher-level fuel blend is being priced in markets across the country.

In addition to the overall winner, RFA also awarded free E85 for a month to the individuals participating in the contest that submitted pictures with the largest and smallest disparity between the E85 price and the price of regular unleaded gasoline. Michael Scholl submitted a photo of a station in Hartford, Michigan, that had E85 at $1.64/gallon and regular unleaded at $2.89/gallon. Additionally, Douglas Cochran identified a station in Albany, Georgia, listing E85 at $1.94/gallon and regular unleaded at $1.68/gallon. The price disparity at the Georgia station goes to show there are still marketers not passing through the real savings of E85 to consumers.

RFA Chairman Pleased with 20th Ethanol Conference

nec15-doyleRenewable Fuels Association (RFA) chairman and Al-Corn Clean Fuel CEO Randy Doyal was pleased with this year’s turnout at the 20th National Ethanol Conference in the “heart of oil country.”

“This has been a really great conference,” said Doyal, whose farmer-owned cooperative plant in Claremont, Minnesota is about 20 years old as well. “Twenty years ago when we were starting the plant we had, for the first time, five dollar corn,” he said. “It was perfect timing because we got up and running when a lot of the industry was ceasing because of that price and because of our co-op nature we were able to do that.”

Doyal is a firm believer in the RFA and what they are able to accomplish as an organization for the entire industry, and he wishes all producers were members. He compares it to the co-op structure of his plant. “There’s a reason why co-ops work,” he said. “It’s because people join together and work hard to achieve common goals and that’s what RFA is all about.” Interview with RFA Chairman Randy Doyal, Al-Corn

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Political Insiders Provide Ethanol Policy Perspective

nec15-insiders-panelRenewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen welcomed back veteran Washington Insiders panelists at the 20th National Ethanol Conference last week, kind of like a Saturday Night Live reunion, he joked.

The panelists were National Corn Growers Association Executive Vice President Jon Doggett, John Eichberger with the National Association of Convenience Stores, Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute, Shane Karr with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and Advanced Ethanol Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman. Each offered their views on a number of policy and political topics from what Congress may do regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to who the presidential candidates will be in 2016.

NEC 15 Washington Insiders Panel

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Where RFA and EPA Disagree

nec15-dinneen-grundlerEPA Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality Chris Grundler was sincere and apologetic during his appearance at the National Ethanol Conference last week, but he admits to having areas of disagreement with Renewable Fuels Association CEO Bob Dinneen.

“E15 will never realize its full potential until there is parity with regard to EPA volatility regulations for E10 and E15,” said Dinneen in his State of the Industry speech at the 20th annual ethanol conference. “To date, the Agency has rejected our efforts to secure parity, thereby ensuring that E15 is at best a seasonal fuel, a huge disincentive for marketers to adopt E15 at their stations.”

Asked about this issue by DomesticFuel, Grundler said, “That’s one of the areas that Bob and I have vigorous debates on, because I’m questioning how big a factor that is in terms of the slow uptake in E15.”

Grundler said parity is not an issue in regions where reformulated gasoline is required. “That accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of our fuel supply …. including places like Chicago,” he said, adding that governors have the ability to petition EPA to remove this one pound RVP waiver for their states but they “have received no such petitions.”

I also asked Grundler what he thought about Dinneen’s criticism of the EPA in his speech. “I didn’t think it was too harsh (but) I didn’t agree with everything he had to say,” said Grundler, adding that he thinks all stakeholders in this issue seem to overestimate EPA’s authority. “That’s where (Bob) and I differ. He thinks we can do some things that I don’t think we can,” he said.

Listen to Grundler’s answers to my questions here: EPA's Chris Grundler press questions

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Ethanol Conference Scholarship Winner

nec15-scholarshipThis year’s National Ethanol Conference scholarship winner hails from Brazil where she received her master’s degree in international relations in 2012 from San Tiago Dantas, a graduate program supported by three of Brazil’s premier universities.

Lais Thomaz, pictured here with Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen, was pleased to be able to attend the conference to learn more first hand about the U.S. ethanol industry that will help in her research. Her dissertation, which focused on the role of advocacy groups in the shaping of ethanol trade policies, was published as a book by Brazil’s Editora UNESP. Her research previously won the Top Ethanol Award promoted by the Brazilian Sugarcane Ethanol Industry Association (UNICA). She is currently a Ph.D. candidate and a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

Listen to my interview with Lais here: Interview with NEC 15 Scholarship Winner

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

#NEC15 Wrap Up

nec15-globalRenewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen wrapped up the 20th annual National Ethanol Conference on Friday as optimistic as ever.

“The atmosphere in the room, the attitude of the producers that I talked to, the confidence that they continue to show in their industry,” said Dinneen. “They are braced for whatever comes their way and we’re not going away.”

Dinneen gives an overview of the convention last week and some of his takeaways. NEC15 Wrap up with RFA CEO Bob Dinneen

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album