EPIC Speaks Out Against Ethanol Scapegoating

e.pngThe Ethanol Promotion and Information Council has gathered data from multiple sources that debunk claims that America’s renewable fuels are a large player in soaring food prices. Toni Nuernberg, the Executive Director of EPIC wants to spread the word that changing the nation’s renewable fuels standard is not the answer to driving down global food costs.

Recent calls to reduce the renewable fuels standard (RFS) seem like an easy and immediate fix to world food shortages. However, the factors influencing global food prices and supplies are a result of converging global production and demand issues that go far beyond corn-based ethanol. Changing U.S. energy policy will not provide short-term relief on the food supply and decrease food prices as many expect. In fact, relaxing the renewable fuels standard mandate actually may escalate food prices now and in the future by driving fuel prices even higher.

Across the country, including 10 percent ethanol in gasoline has held the price per gallon down by $.15 to $.45 depending on the region of the country, as highlighted in recent studies in Missouri. Reducing ethanol requirements by 50 percent removes 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol from the fuel supply. This will reduce the total fuel supply, causing transportation, fertilizer, fuel, packaging and other food production costs to continue to increase, further inflating the price of food.

Long-term, repealing or suspending the 2007 Energy Policy Act is unnecessary, as technologies in use today and on the horizon will enable American farmers to increase productivity per acre to meet demands for food and this mandate, potentially with the same or fewer inputs than used today.

For many, it is easy to look past the primary factor wreaking havoc with the global economy — namely exorbitant oil prices which have increased from $35 in 2005 to more than $110 today — nearly 300 percent.

Globally, today’s energy prices are a disincentive to food production, as third world countries simply can’t afford to develop agriculture systems and, therefore, their ability to feed themselves.

Corn-based ethanol, while not a silver bullet, is the foundation upon which the next generation of “advanced biofuels” is being built.

The industry is fueling research into cellulosic ethanol produced from feedstocks such as switch grass and other non-edible renewable biomass. Corn-based ethanol is a solution that is here now, available in our current infrastructure and making a difference in the price of fuel.

Former Ag Secretary Defends Ethanol

Former Secretary of Agriculture John Block can look at the food versus fuel issue from a number of angles. He ran the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Reagen from 1981-1986. He was executive vice president of the Food Marketing Institute, which represents food retailers and wholesalers. He serves on the board of Friends of the World Food Program, a US-based non-profit organization dedicated to building support for the World Food Program and other hunger relief efforts. And he is an Illinois family farmer who produces both corn and hogs.

RFA Press Conference John BlockOn Wednesday, Block shared his perspective on food prices and ethanol with the media at the National Press Club.

“The first point I would make is, yes, biofuels have had some impact on the price of food, we can’t deny that,” Block said. “But it’s pretty small, it’s hard to figure out exactly what it is.”

That’s because this is a very complicated issue, Block says, which includes factors such as increased demand for animal protein in developing countries, crops affected by weather, speculation in the futures markets, weakness of the dollar, and oil. “I dare say we would not even be standing up here right now if oil was $20 a barrel, but it’s not, it’s $120 and its likely to stay in that range and it puts us in a position we had not been in before,” he said.

With so many factors involved, Block says it’s unreasonable to give biofuels a majority of the blame for higher food prices, especially internationally. “Because we are not shorting the market on grain,” he said. “We are exporting more grain than we ever have in history.”

The positive side to this Block says is that higher prices equals investment and that equals more food. “Over time, with good prices for farm products, the world is going to produce more food products.”

“I believe that biofuels have an important place,” Block concluded. “All of this is home-grown, it makes jobs for us in the United States and its a clean fuel – those are good, positive things.”

Listen to Block’s comments here:

Ethanol Blender Pumps Gives Consumers Choices

A new partnership between the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council (SDCUC) is helping gas station retailers in South Dakota put in more ethanol blender pumps to let consumers with flex fuel vehicles have more options.

e-podcastThe edition of “Fill up, Feel Good” features comments from EPIC Director of Operations Robert White and SDCUC Executive Director Lisa Richardson about the new program, its goals, how it will work, and how it will benefit consumers.

The podcast is available to download by subscription (see our sidebar link) or you can listen to it by clicking here (5:00 MP3 File):

The Fill Up, Feel Good theme music is “Tribute to Joe Satriani” by Alan Renkl, thanks to the Podsafe Music Network.

“Fill up, Feel Good” is sponsored by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council.

Ethanol Closer to Little Bo Peep

Is ethanol Little Bo Peep or the Ax Murderer?

RFA Press Conference Rick TolmanThat’s the question National Corn Growers CEO Rick Tolman presented to the media during a press conference in Washington DC on Wednesday, pointing to the front page article on ethanol and corn prices in the Washington Post as being the latest example of making ethanol out to be the ax murderer. “There’s a lot of misinformation, slanted information that is just inaccurate,” Tolman said. “While we do have some role in higher food prices in the corn industry, we are certainly closer to Little Bo Peep than the ax murderer.”

Tolman pointed out the importance of the US corn industry, the dramatic increases in yields and production and the fact that prices for petroleum products have a much greater impact on food prices than corn does.

“What do corn prices have to do with food riots in China and Pakistan and India over rice?” Tolman asked. “Absolutely nothing. There is no connection to rice production around the world with biofuels production in the United States. Absolutely none.”

Tolman blamed the disinformation in the media on a very clever marketing campaign by those with deep pockets. “If you want to know who the real ax murderer is slashing our grocery food budget, look at $4 a gallon gasoline, look at $120 a barrel oil,” Tolman said.

Listen to Tolman’s comments here:

Renewable Energy Bill Passes Florida Legislature

A comprehensive energy bill has passed the Florida legislature, and now goes to the governor for an expected signature.

This story from the Orlando (FL) Sun-Sentinel says the measure has provisions specifically addressing renewable energy in the state:

crist.jpgThe bill, which addresses Gov. Charlie Crist’s call for policies that combat global warming, is made up of 112 sections that could dramatically increase the state’s investment in renewable energy. The House passed the energy bill unanimously Tuesday and the Senate passed the House bill by a vote of 39 to1 Wednesday.

Among the changes proposed, the bill would require state buildings to meet specific “green energy” standards. That’s expected to cost more during construction but save the state money in the long run by increasing energy efficiency.

The bill would allow state regulators to set goals for individual utilities on how much renewable energy they produce and to fine utilities that don’t meet the goals and reward them if they do. Regulators would be required to consider the effect of utility customers’ rates when setting the goals.

Passage gained the praise of Crist:

“I want to thank Senate President Ken Pruitt, House Speaker Marco Rubio, Senator Burt Saunders and Representative Stan Mayfield for their leadership in securing Florida’s green energy future,” Governor Crist said. “Today’s vote signifies a commitment to protecting Florida’s natural beauty and stimulating our economy, as well as reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil.”

The bill also assures accountability for the renewable energy with a state commission studying whether green fuels such as biodiesel, wind, and solar provide returns for the state’s investment in them.

GM Announces Second Cellulosic Ethanol Partnership

GMGeneral Motors and Mascoma Corporation of Massachusetts today announced a strategic relationship to develop cellulosic ethanol.

MascomaThe development is focused on Mascoma’s single-step biochemical conversion of non-grain biomass into low-carbon alternative fuels to help address increasing energy demand. It ties in with another partnership announced earlier this year with Coskata that uses a thermo-chemical process to make ethanol from non-grain sources.

“Taken together, these technologies represent what we see as the best in the cellulosic ethanol future and cover the spectrum in science and commercialization,” GM President Fritz Henderson said. “Demonstrating the viability of sustainable non-grain based ethanol is critical to developing the infrastructure to support the flex-fuel vehicle market.”

Mascoma has raised significant equity from venture capital investments and secured more than $60 million in state and federal grants, including the recent awarding of a $26 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Cellulosic biofuels represent next-generation renewable energy, and have the potential to reduce oil dependence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulate regional economic development,” Mascoma Chairman and CEO Bruce Jamerson said. “Our transformational technology will allow us to combine the affordable non-grain biomass with low-cost conversion techniques to make ethanol more quickly, efficiently and economically than is possible with other biochemical methods.”

GM’s multi-dimensional involvement with Mascoma will include projects to evaluate materials and other fuels for specific engine applications as well as collaborating on Mascoma’s efforts to expand its commercialization projects globally, including promotion of increased biofuels distribution.

Biofuels Digest Diverts Blame to China

bdlogo.jpgChina, not biofuels, are to blame for rising food costs. At least, that’s what The Biofuels Digest suggests. The online publication says their study finds that for every bushel of grain used to make U.S. ethanol, six are used to support Chinese meat demand.

A change in Chinese meat consumption habits since 1995 is diverting eight billion bushels of grain per year to livestock feed and could empty global grain stocks by September 2010, according to a new study from Biofuels Digest.

The study, “Meat vs Fuel: Grain use in the U.S. and China, 1995-2008,” concluded that a complete shutdown of the U.S. ethanol industry would extend the deadline only until 2013.

“It’s not food, it’s not fuel, it’s China,” said Jim Lane, editor of Biofuels Digest and author of the report.

The study determined that China’s meat consumption since 1995 has increased by 112 percent to 53 kilograms per person per year.

“If the Chinese people had consumed the same amount of meat, per person, in 2007 as in 1995, there would have been enough grain left over to support 927 million people with food for an entire year,” said Lane. Continue reading

South Dakota Blender Pump Program

South Dakota is poised to lead the nation in giving consumers a real choice at the pump with a new blender pump initiative announced Thursday.

Through a partnership between the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council (SDCUC), the initiative will help gas station retailers obtain funding and the equipment needed to sell blends of ethanol ranging from 20 to 40 percent to be used in flex fuel vehicles.

EPIC Fueling LogoAccording to EPIC Director of Operations Robert White, “The blender pump program will provide incentives and support to gas station retailers who want the opportunity to offer blender pumps, raise awareness to consumers, and offer flex-fuel vehicle motorists more opportunities at the pump.”

SD Corn Utilization CouncilOne of the main goals is to increase the state’s blender pump infrastructure by installing a minimum of 100 new blender pumps over the next year. There are currently nearly 20 blender pumps in the state. All blender pumps will be branded with the stylized “e” logo and the necessary precautionary pump labels.

“This is just the first step in a program that has the potential to go nationwide as consumers demand greater fueling options at the pump,” said SDCUC President Reid Jensen. “Encouraging blender pump infrastructure development across the state will strengthen our economy.”

Additional resources will be available to the retailers taking advantage of this blender pump program including a marketing and PR campaign to increase public awareness, and pump promotions at stations housing blender pumps.

Nebraska Breaks Ground on State’s Largest Wind Farm

State and local officials were on hand this week for the groundbreaking of what will become Nebraska’s largest wind farm.

This story from the North Platte (NE) Bulletin says the wind farm, near the Northeast Nebraska town of Bloomfield will be the state’s first community-based wind project:

When completed, the Elkhorn Ridge Wind Facility will have 27 wind turbines and generate enough electricity to power 25,000 homes.

heineman.jpg“Today, we celebrate the official start of the largest wind energy project to date in Nebraska,” Gov. [Dave] Heineman said at the groundbreaking. “I want to offer my thanks and appreciation to everyone involved with this project, which will more than double Nebraska’s wind power capacity.

The wind power industry is in the infant stage in Nebraska but holds real promise, Heineman said.

“Some of Nebraska’s emerging and fastest growing industries are those in the field of renewable energy,” he said. “Nebraska is building a comprehensive renewable portfolio thanks to recent investments in expanded ethanol research and production, new investments in biodiesel production, the construction of methane digesters, and new opportunities to harness the wind in powering our homes and businesses.”

The facility is the first project to be developed using provisions enacted during the 2007 legislative session, allowing Nebraska’s publicly-owned utilities to purchase electricity generated by wind turbines owned by community partnerships.

Nebraska produces just 73 megawatts of wind-produced electricity. This project will more than double that amount as it will crank out 80 megawatts when fully operational.

NBB Helping Develop Soybean Oil Enhancement

danforthnbb.jpgWorking with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is granting $1.2 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. for a three-year project to enhance oil production from soybeans.

This NBB press release says it’s just another step the group has taken to free this country from foreign oil dependence:

rogerbeachy1.jpg“This grant is yet another of the Danforth Center’s unique partnerships for supporting basic plant science research. In this case, the partnership will address the pressing needs for more efficient methods to produce fuels from renewable plant sources,” said Danforth Center President Dr. Roger N. Beachy. “We greatly appreciate the support of Senator Kit Bond and his staff in facilitating the relationship between the Danforth Center and the National Biodiesel Board in an effort to increase the oil feedstock for biodiesel production.”

joe-jobethumbnail1.jpg“We are proud to support the Danforth Center as researchers there look for ways to get more bang for the buck from each soybean seed,” said NBB CEO Joe Jobe. “Increasing the oil feedstock supply is vital to the rapidly expanding biodiesel industry. Soybean oil is one of the primary feedstock sources used in the production of biodiesel, and we hope this research will increase the soy oil supply. Plus, whatever advances are made on beans will have a high likelihood of being transferred to other oilseed crops – other biodiesel sources.”

Danforth Center Principal Investigator Dr. Jan Jaworski will lead the research project which will be focused on increasing the oil produced in soybean seeds by altering specific biochemical pathways that are embedded within the soybean plant. “We will undertake a new approach to enhancing the production of soy oil with a goal of increasing the percentage of oil produced in each seed,” Dr. Jaworski explained. “While this approach is new, we are confident our results will lead to increased oil production without reducing the amount of protein in the seeds: soy protein is an important source of food and feed.”

Canadians Support Biofuels

crf.jpgThe U.S. isn’t the only country in North America that’s trying to fuel change in fuel standards. The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association says a new poll suggests Canadians are just as bio-conscious…

A new nationwide poll shows that Canadians overwhelmingly support the national renewable fuels strategy to blend biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel in Canada’s fuel supply.

The national Praxicus Public Strategies Inc. poll conducted April 23-27 shows that 74% support the 5% national standard for ethanol and the 2% national standard for biodiesel, and a further 67% support increasing the national renewable fuel blend to 10% and 5% respectively.

The poll also shows that 69% of Canadians strongly believe that we need to grow beyond oil by developing environmentally friendly and viable alternatives to fossil fuels. Indeed, according to a recent report from Merrill Lynch if not for biofuels, crude oil would be trading 15% higher and gasoline would be as much as 25% more expensive.

Currently in Canada we are able to produce roughly one billion litres of ethanol and 100 million litres of biodiesel. By no later than 2012 that is expected to increase to more than 2.5 billion litres of ethanol and more than 500 million litres of biodiesel. The renewable fuels industry is investing more than $1.5 billion in building production capacity in Canada and is helping to create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and generating $600 million in annual economic activity.

Food Price Increase Facts – Updated

RFA Press ConferenceUpdated with recorded video

Hello from Washington, DC and the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual Washington Watch program. I’m covering their conference on our sister site, AgWired. Today at 1pm eastern time, I’ll be attending a press conference at the National Press Club being hosted by the Renewable Fuels Association. In attendance will be:

The Honorable John Block, former Secretary of Agriculture
Tom Buis, President, National Farmers Union (NFU)
Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA)
Rick Tolman, CEO, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA

The topic will be: “Farmers and Ethanol Industry to Present the Facts On Food Price Increases.” This topic just won’t go away and it’s at least in part due to the immense amount of misinformation being spread in the media, most notably this week, the Washington Post with their irresponsible series called, Global Food Crisis.

I’m hoping to be able to stream the press conference live this afternoon and you’ll be able to watch it here with the following player. Basically, starting at 1pm or within a few moments of that, you should be able to click on the player and see the live stream. A lot depends on the internet connection I’ll have there. In any case, I’ll also be recording it to post on Domestic Fuel as well.


Update:
The live stream worked! Here is a recording of the first 20 minutes or so:

Here is some additional footage of today’s press conference:

Listen to the entire one hour plus press conference here:

You can see an online photo album from the press conference here: RFA Press Conference Photo Album

Missing 500,000 Barrels a Day

geesman.jpgAn opinion piece in GreenEnergyWar.com asks an interesting question: Wouldn’t we miss the 500,000 barrels of oil that biofuels replace every day?

Check out what former California Energy Commissioner John Geesman (who, by the way, has also been following California politics for more than 40 years) has to say:

As debate continues to rage over the role which biofuels policies have played in the extraordinary inflation in world food prices, a sobering awareness may spread. Crop-based fuels like ethanol and biodiesel may have already become an indispensable element of global supplies of liquid fuels. Their absence could have a significant impact on the price of oil.

That’s the gist of some recent cautionary remarks coming from the International Energy Agency, generally considered the analytic watchdog for the energy consuming interests of the developed world. By IEA’s estimate, biofuels make up about half the new fuel coming to market this year from outside the OPEC cartel.

In the words of William Ramsey, deputy executive director of the IEA, “If we didn’t have those barrels, I’m not certain where we would be getting those half a million barrels,” adding that OPEC has indicated that it will not increase supply.

What would be the impact on oil prices without those barrels? Using a slightly different analysis, focused on an annual increase in global production of biofuels of about 300,000 barrels-of-oil-a-day equivalent, Merrill Lynch commodity strategist told the Wall Street Journal that oil and gasoline prices would be about 15% higher if biofuel producers weren’t increasing their output.

Significantly, that 300,000 barrels-a-day amount represents one-third of the world’s growth in the demand for oil last year, which was about 900,000 barrels-a-day.

Now, I don’t know about you, but 15 percent more for my gas would push it over $4-a-gallon… and I know I’m not paying as much as some people are paying. I’m just glad we’ve got some folks outside of OPEC doing what they can to make it a little better for folks like you and me… and some floks who are writing opinion pieces like Geesman is doing.

New Biodiesel Production Method Lands Student on GMA and Before Congress

krohngma.jpgA student from Augsburg College in Minnesota has come up with a new method of biodiesel that has landed his story on Good Morning America and before the Senate Agriculture Committee.

This story from TwinCities.com says Brian Krohn, along with chemistry professor Arlin Gyberg, Krohn’s college adviser, are making biodiesel from non-food stocks like algae:

Their research is drawing attention as prices for soybeans, corn and other commodities climb beyond the reach of some of the world’s poorest inhabitants, partly because of their value in making fuels like biodiesel and ethanol.

“Good Morning America,” the ABC morning news show, taped a segment with Krohn Monday for airing today. On various days this week, he and Gyberg will be in Washington, D.C., to brief U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and the staffs of U.S. Reps. James Oberstar, Collin Peterson and Keith Ellison, all Minnesota Democrats.

Krohn’s research led to the creation of a process of making biodiesel that can use vegetable oils and animal fats that are high in free fatty acids, which usually interferes with biodiesel production, said Gyberg, his adviser.

Soybeans have almost none of these fatty acids, which is why they’ve been favored in fuel production, Gyberg said.

The new process can use oils squeezed from a wide range of sources — from animal fat to common algae to corn mash left over from ethanol production — all with fatty acid content that normally rules them out as sources of biodiesel, the professor said.

In addition to using non-food stocks, the process is faster and cheaper than using soybeans, helping settle part of that food-versus-fuel debate.

Ceres First to Brand Seeds for Bioengery Crops

ceres.pngAs technology unleashes more and more energy possibilities from more and more crops, it can get a little confusing as to which plants can do what. Ceres, Inc. plans to clarify bio-friendly seeds with its new bioenergy seed brand.

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. plans to market its agricultural seeds and traits under the trade name Blade Energy Crops in the United States. Company president and CEO Richard Hamilton unveiled the new brand at the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology in Chicago earlier today.

“Blade will be the first multi-crop seed brand supplying the new market for non-food, low-carbon biofuel feedstocks,” Hamilton said. These biomass-dense crops will be grown as raw materials for next-generation biofuels and biopower. One of the great appeals of energy crops is that they can thrive on agricultural lands that are ill-suited to food production.

“Supported by the latest technology in genomics-based breeding, trait development and compositional analysis, we are positioning Blade as a premium seed brand for biofuel and biopower feedstocks. For growers, that means high yields and greater yield stability. Downstream, it means easier processing, and ultimately, more energy per ton of biomass,” said Hamilton. “From both an economic and environmental perspective, if we are going to turn plant matter into fuel, we should use feedstocks that give us the maximum fuel yield per acre.”

The company says the Blade name was inspired by its first crops, switchgrass, sorghum and canes, which are from a category of closely related grass species, known as C4 grasses. C4 grasses are the natural world’s most efficient engines of photosynthesis, the process by which plants store solar energy in the form of carbohydrates. New technologies have made it possible to convert the most abundant form of these energy-rich molecules, called cellulose, into renewable fuels.