Crop Report Underscores Need for Market Certainty

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released new corn crop estimates that confirm another record setting corn crop and after accounting for the surplus after all demands are met, will hit a 10-year high. The WASDE report predicts the final 2014 corn crop at 14.48 billion bushels based on a record average yield of 174.2 bushels per acre In addition, WASDE estimated global grain stocks will reach a 14 year high.

While the corn crop is at record levels, corn prices are falling. USDA projected prices will average $3.40 per bushel – the lowest in eight years. This is also below the cost of production for more farmers.

“API [American Petroleum Institute] has spent millions upon millions of dollars on ad campaigns trying to sell people on the canard that ethanol drives up food prices in a misguided attCorn Harvestempt to garner opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS),” said Bob Dinneen, CEO and president of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). “But their argument is bankrupt. Because of the RFS, farmers have invested in technology and increased yields to assure ample supply for all users. Today’s report demonstrates the API campaign is intellectually dishonest.

“Indeed, today’s USDA report should be the closing argument in the debate over the 2014 RFS final rule,” Dinneen continued. “When farmers made their planting decisions for the 2014 season, they anticipated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House would continue to enforce the statutory RFS volumes. But in one fell swoop, the EPA’s proposed rule wiped away demand for 500 million bushels of corn and grain sorghum. Now, farmers are faced with corn prices below the cost of production and the risk of returning to an era of increased reliance on federal farm program payments. The White House has an opportunity to help alleviate this situation simply by fixing the badly misguided 2014 RFS proposal and getting the program back on track.”

Preview of Advanced Biofuels Conference

National Advanced Biofuels ConferenceThe National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo is underway in Minneapolis. Our first panel is moderated by BBI’s Tim Portz, VP of Content. This panel, talking about “Assessing the Health of Federal Biofuels Policy and Its Long Term Prognosis,” includes Joe Jobe, National Biodiesel Board, Mike McAdams, Advanced Biofuels Association and Matt Carr, Algae Biomass Organization. I’ll have more from their comments later.

I spoke with Tim to get a preview of what we’ll be doing here. He says it is an interesting time for the industry with some great successes happening in the advanced biofuels category. However, the industry is still struggling with the on-going uncertainty with the RFS. He is interested to hear from industry members who will be participating on panels and talking about this topic.

You can listen to my interview with Tim to learn more about what’s going on at this year’s conference: Interview with Tim Portz

2014 National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo Photo Album

Coverage of The Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo is sponsored by
Coverage of The Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo is sponsored by New Holland

Ecotech Institute Offers Free Energy e-Books

Ecotech Institute has released a series of free energy ebooks detailing how to begin a career in wind or solar energy. The guides cover issues from a day in the life of a Ditch the Desk Ecotech Instituterenewable energy technician to potential salaries to required skills and advice form current professionals working in the solar and wind industries.

The wind and solar energy renewable energy industries continue to do well, but according to Ecotech Institute that doesn’t mean getting a green job is easy. The jobs take specialized training, cleantech industry knowledge and passion is a plus.

  • Future solar and wind technicians have one place to access vital information, including:
  • Key industry facts about the renewable energy sector;
  • Tips for job seekers in the energy efficiency field;
  • Expectations and requirements for wind and solar energy green jobs;
  • Cleantech employment trends;
  • And advice from working industry experts and technicians.
  • Learn everything there is to know about “ditching the desk” and landing a green job in the wind or solar industry by downloading the free Wind and Solar Energy eBooks here.

Ecotech Institute is the first and only school in the U.S. that is solely dedicated to sustainable energy. The school currently offers eight associate’s degree programs, including hands-on training for wind and solar energy technology:

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFThe Ukrainian government has approved a new National Action Plan state decree for the development of wind energy. The ambitious new goals called for by the decree include increasing the wind energy capacity of the country up to 2.28 GW by the year 2020 — which represents a 500% increase on the current figure of 410 MW.
  • Oman plans to build its first major wind farm at a cost of $125 million to generate electricity in its southern governorate of Dhofar, as part of efforts to limit the use of oil and gas in power generation. The wind farm at Harweel will have a capacity of 50 megawatts, enough to meet about 50 per cent of demand in the governorate during the winter, and is expected to begin operating early in 2017. The project will be coordinated by Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co (Masdar) and financed by a grant from the Abu Dhabi government. The turbines will be made in a Western nation while local contractors will be given a large share of the construction work, RAEC said without elaborating.
  • Bobby Likis, automotive expert and host of nationally syndicated car-talk program “Bobby Likis Car Clinic“, will shared the microphone with Jeff Oestmann, President and CEO of East Kansas Agri-Energy on the Car Clinic globalcast in a hard-hitting discussion of the local, regional and national issues surrounding ethanol production.
  • During the SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas, SolarCity and Honda renewed their partnership with a new fund expected to finance $50 million in solar projects. The new commitment will make solar power more affordable and available to Honda and Acura customers and dealerships in the U.S. The companies have completed or initiated a range of solar projects for homeowners, dealerships and corporate facilities that total more than 12.5 MW of solar generation capacity.

Fuels America Is Spilling the ‘Oil’

Fuels America is spilling the oil detailing the amount of money Big Oil has spent to “rig the political system” with lobbyists and campaign cash since 2008. Using data from opensecrets.org, the oil industry has spent more than $1.1 billion, $961 million lobbying Congress and $146 million in campaign contributions. This equates to more than $2 million for each member of Congress. The coalition said a significant amount of the funds were used to “block renewable fuels” and to “rig Congress and campaigns” across the U.S.

The oil industry reaped $93 billion in profits last year and continually receives sweetheart tax breaks upwards of $470 billion and counting, while renewable fuels generate $14.5 billion in tax revenue every year.

Meanwhile, said Fuels America, the oil lobby has continued to fight to kill the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which would permanently outsource thousands of American jobs and increase our reliance on foreign oil from hostile and unstable regions. The coalition has urged President Obama to resist pressure from the oil lobby and reject an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to gut the RFS.

Rigging the Tax Code ad

The ads, which will run for the next week, link to a page that breaks down the numbers and invites Americans to join the fight against oil industry efforts to rig the system and block competition from renewable fuels. They can be seen on sites such as POLITICO.com, RollCall.com and TheHill.com.

Argentina Biodiesel Exports on the Rise Again

argentinaflagAfter falling off the last couple of years, biodiesel exports from Argentina are on the rise again. This article from the Business Recorder credits the country’s cut in sales taxes last May that look to allow biodiesel exports to double this year compared to last.

Under pressure to jumpstart activity in the sector, the government cut biodiesel export taxes to 11 percent from 21 percent in May. Now the South American grains powerhouse is on track to double exports of the fuel this year to 1.4 million tonnes versus 700,000 tonnes in 2013, said Luis Zubizarreta, president of Carbio, the chamber of biodiesel producers and exporters.

“In the first four months of this year exports remained very low. Then the tax cut allowed us to become internationally competitive again and we’ve been able ship a good amount of our product,” Zubizarreta said in an interview earlier this week. Carbio expects Argentina to produce 2.35 million tonnes of biodiesel this year, well above the 1.8 million tonnes projected by the chamber at the start of the year. “We are still not at 100 percent capacity,” Zubizarreta said, “but the industry has started functioning well again.”

The article says the Argentine exports have been hurt by Europe’s increased tariffs on biodiesel from the South American country. Argentina used to be the world’s biggest biodiesel exporter before those tariffs stopped much of that business. Argentina is fighting the tariffs at the World Trade Organisation.

Study: 20% Biodiesel Fine for Heating Homes

nora1A new study shows that a 20 percent biodiesel blend is fine for home heating use. The National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) says they tested blends of ASTM D6751 biodiesel with both standard and low sulfur heating oil and found that the 20 percent blend can be used in heating oil without incident.

Field experience with Bioheat® fuel (blended heating oil and biodiesel) has been overwhelmingly positive. A recent service organization survey conducted by NORA and Brookhaven National Laboratory observed that some 35,000 buildings are currently using Bioheat® containing more than 5% biodiesel with no issues…

Winter operability is essential in serving oilheat’s customers. Biodiesel blends can have a significant impact as the feedstock affects its winter characteristics. Wholesale suppliers and retail marketers need to be sure the product they sell is right for the temperatures at which it will be stored at and used. An outside tank in Maine may need a different product than an indoor tank.

NORA says it has been working with the National Biodiesel Board and the oil heating industry state leadership groups to make sure biodiesel used in home heating oil is of the highest quality to eliminate any issues, especially during the coldest weather when homes need to be heated most.

Ready for National Advanced Biofuels Conference

National Advanced Biofuels Conference & ExpoThe National Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo is about to kick off in Minneapolis, MN and I’m on the scene courtesy of event Platinum sponsor New Holland. I thought I’d wear a somewhat retro New Holland Biodiesel/Clean Energy Leader shirt to the opening reception this evening. I haven’t worn denim in a while!

The next couple days I’ll be collecting interviews and photos to share with you as we explore some of the hot topics in the renewable energy industry.

I’ll be sharing photos from throughout the conference here: 2014 National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo Photo Album

Coverage of The Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo is sponsored by
Coverage of The Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo is sponsored by New Holland

RFA Brings Ethanol Safety Program to Canada

Ethanol safety has been shared with the Canadians. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) met with Transport Canada’s Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) Task Force to educated them on emergency preparedness.

Ethanol Safety SeminarRFA’s Vice President of Technical Services, Kristy Moore, spoke remotely to Transport Canada’s ERAP Task Force and detailed current RFA safety initiatives, outlined transportation methods available for ethanol distribution specifically focusing on rail, and delivered an overview of the U.S. ethanol industry.

“A solid emergency response program is vital to everyone — no matter the country — and I applaud Transport Canada for having the foresight to get ahead of the game and formulate a national emergency response program,” said Moore. “We are excited to begin working with them to translate RFA safety materials into French and help them develop an ethanol safety seminar program similar to the very successful RFA program here in the States.”

RFA has been involved in ethanol education around transportation safety and emergency response for many years. The Association is a founding member of the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition (EERC) and joined TRANSCAER — a transportation safety initiative that focuses on community emergency response — in 2007. RFA worked with the EERC to establish an ethanol safety seminar program that goes around the country educating local firefighters and first responders on the best way to respond to a potential emergency situation. The seminars utilize the RFA’s “Training Guide to Ethanol Emergency Response”. Nearly 150 safety seminars have been held in 27 states.

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFA new analysis identifies many real-world examples where government policies and sustained technological progress in the U.S. are creating opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while delivering net economic benefits. Emerging technologies could help the country achieve deeper reductions even faster with targeted policy support, according to “Seeing Is Believing: Creating a New Climate Economy in the United States,” a study by World Resources Institute.
  • ISM Solar Solutions has partnered with WatershedGeo, a company offering permanent closures for landfills and brownfields using their patented products, including ClosureTurf to design, develop and construct utility scale solar arrays on existing and new ClosureTurf installations. This joint venture will provide innovative solutions specific to landfill closures, while creating opportunities to develop renewable energy across North America.
  • Brazilian electricity utility Light has announced the formal agreement of the largest smart grid project in South American history, in partnership with global energy management company Landis+Gyr. Valued at approximately $313 million US, the five year contract covers the supply, implementation, operation and maintenance of Landis+Gyr’s Gridstream smart grid solution. The collaboration also includes deployment of 1.1 million endpoints, comprised of advance SGP+M anti-tampering meters and automation of power vaults and reclosers.
  • Enovos Luxembourg SA inaugurated its first photovoltaic power plant in Portugal. Located in the Alcoutim region in the south of Portugal, this photovoltaic power plant is comprised of 13,774 concentrator modules with a combined power of 1.29 MWp. The modules are made up of lenses capable of concentrating sunlight 500 times and focus it into small highly efficient, multi-junction solar cells.

Will You Use New MyFarmRadio.com App?

New Holland ZimmPollOur latest ZimmPoll asked the question, “What is your favorite type of cheese?”

It is obvious we all have different tastes when it comes to cheese. It is such a staple in many meals nationwide and there are an endless amount of varieties. Cheddar seems to rise to the top slightly. However, like myself, many like them all.

Here are the poll results:

  • A simple American – 5%
  • Any type of Cheddar – 24%
  • Something soft, like Gouda – 19%
  • Artisan all the way – 19%
  • I like them all – 19%
  • Other – 14%

Our new ZimmPoll is now live and asks the question, Are you ready for MyFarmRadio on your mobile device?

On November 3rd the new platform MyFarmRadio will launch. The 24/7 digital mobile radio channel will focus on a mix of best-in-class news, weather and markets along with entertaining and informative conversation for America’s farmers and ranchers. The app will allow listeners to pick and choose what they want to hear – and when they want to hear it. What do you think about this new way to get farm news? Will you be one of the first to check it out? Learn more about it in our latest ZimmCast.

Bioenergy for the Birds

A new research paper examines the relationship between bioenergy and the birds. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and published in PLOS ONE, looked at whether corn and perennial grassland fields in southern Wisconsin could provide both biomass for bioenergy as well as a bird habitat.

The answer is yes.

UW-Madison biofuels and bird studyThe study found that where there are grasslands there are birds. For example, grass and wildflower dominated field supported more than three times as many bird species as cornfields. And grassland fields can product ample biomass to be used to produce advanced biofuels.

Monica Turner, UW-Madison professor of zoology, and study lead author Peter Blank, a postdoctoral researcher in her lab, hope the findings help drive decisions that benefit both birds and biofuels, too, by providing information for land managers, farmers, conservationists and policy makers as the bioenergy industry ramps up, particularly in Wisconsin and the central U.S.

The research team selected 30 different grassland sites – three of which are already used for small-scale bioenergy production – and 11 cornfields in southern Wisconsin. Over the course of two years, the researchers characterized the vegetation growing in each field, calculated and estimated the biomass yields possible, and counted the total numbers of birds and bird species observed in them.

According to Blank and Turner, the study is one of the first to examine grassland fields already producing biomass for biofuels and is one of only a few analyses to examine the impact of bioenergy production on birds. While previous studies suggest corn is a more profitable biofuel crop than grasses and other types of vegetation, the new findings indicate grassland fields may represent an acceptable tradeoff between creating biomass for bioenergy and providing habitat for grassland birds. The landscape could benefit other species, too.

Among the grasslands studied, the team found monoculture grasses supported fewer birds and fewer bird species than grasslands with a mix of grass types and other kinds of vegetation, like wildflowers. The team found that the presence of grasslands within one kilometer of the study sites also helped boost bird species diversity and bird density in the area.

This is an opportunity, Turner said, to inform large-scale land use planning. By locating biomass-producing fields near existing grasslands, both birds and the biofuels industry can win.

Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association Working for You

The Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association is working on behalf of the biofuels industry and consumers throughout Minnesota. With several successes under their belt, the Association has identified several more goals they would like to achieve on behalf of the biofuels industry over the next few years.

“We are hopeful the next two years will lead us into opportunities to develop higher usage of ethanol blends, in particular we will work hard on promoting usage of E15 in 2001 and newer vehicles,” said Brian Kletscher, CEO of Highwater Ethanol and President of the Highwater Ethanol Aerial PhotosBoard of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association. “To help accomplish this we have hired a Biofuels Marketing Manager, this will allow us to directly communicate with the many gas station owners in the State of Minnesota and give them guidance on how to bring in E15 to their gas station while providing and economic benefit to them as owners while also passing on a savings to their customers in lower cost for E15.”

Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association echoes Kletscher’s goal. In addition, Rudnicki said they are continuing to increase the use of E85. “Sales of E85 in Minnesota have been on the rise but there is still plenty of room to grow. There are many flex-fuel vehicle owners who don’t know the benefits of using E85 or even the fact that it’s 80 cents cheaper per gallon on average in Minnesota.”

When asked if the biofuels industry would have seen as many successes without the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, Kletscher said while the industry was growing prior to the formation of the Association, by working with Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Soybean Growers Association and other ethanol related organization, the formation of the Association has allowed the ethanol industry and biofuels industry the opportunity to branch out and grow in supporting and promoting the usage of their products.

“While doing this we have maintained a strong relationship with the associations and related organizations that walked with and grew the biofuels industry to the point that it is today,” said Kletscher.

However, as Rudnicki identifies, the political landscape will have an effect on their work but for the most part, the view of biofuels is positive. “We are fortunate that many of our federal and state-level senators and representatives are supportive of biofuels and support measures to increase its usage,” he said. “We work closely with many of them and they understand how important biofuels are to the economy in Minnesota and its role in reducing prices at the pump, greenhouse gases and our dependence on foreign oil. Biofuels are the only viable solution to removing our dependence on harmful fossil fuels and many of them understand that.” Continue reading

Food Prices Still Up Despite Lower Corn Prices

With record corn production forecast this year comes lower corn prices, which makes the food versus fuel argument harder than ever to make, according to Growth Energy.

Total corn production is now projected at 14.475 billion bushels, 550 million bushels more than last year’s record, while the average price received by farmers is expected to be $3.40 per bushel, the lowest price in eight years.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports the international food price index is down 6.0 percent over the last year, grain prices are down nearly 9 percent since 2013, but meat prices are nearly 22 percent higher than a year ago.

Domestic food prices are up 2.5 percent compared to December 2013, nearly the same as the overall Consumer Price Index, which is up 2.1 percent for the same period. But while corn and other grain prices are rapidly declining, consumer meat prices are up 11.6 percent since last December.

growth-energy-logo“The current WASDE projections and recent reports from the FAO and Bureau of Labor Statistics further confirm that there is virtually no correlation between U.S. ethanol production and consumer food prices,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “Corn prices are below the cost of production for most farmers, and ethanol is selling approximately $1.00 per gallon less than the gasoline on the wholesale marketplace.”

“As integrated livestock and poultry companies brag about their record profits and margins to their stockholders and investment bankers, the Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council and The National Council of Chain Restaurants, all allies of Big Oil, continue their campaign to intentionally mislead Americans about the cause of rising food prices in the U.S,” Buis added.

USDA Increases Crop Forecast Again

il-harvest-14The harvest may be running a little slow right now, but the latest report from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is calling for a bit more corn than expected a month ago, adding to the already record forecasts.

Corn production is now forecast at 14.5 billion bushels, up almost one percent from the previous forecast and four percent more than last year. Corn yields are expected to average 174.2 bushels per acre, up 2.5 bushels from the September forecast and 15.4 bushels above the 2013 average.

The bigger crop mean lower prices and USDA’s latest World Agricultural Supply Demand Estimate also released today. Corn supplies for 2014/15 are now projected at 15,736 million bushels, up 129 million from last month, while season average prices were lowered 10 cents to $3.10 to $3.70 per bushel. Corn used to produce ethanol, distiller’s grains and other co-products is projected at 5.125 billion bushels, while corn consumption for feed is estimated at 5.375 billion bushels.