Ethanol Investing Decline

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

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Chris here:

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

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More Bio Economy Research Needed

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Gale here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Trucking Corn For Ethanol

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Frank here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Transporting Biofuels By Rail

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Paul here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Rural Development Policy

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

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

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Tom here:

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

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EPIC’s Year of Opportunity

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

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

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

Biodiesel Powers Power Company

Electric utility giant Consolidated Edison… Con Ed as it is affectionately known… announced today it will run more biodiesel in its vehicles.

This company press release from the utility giant serving more than three million customers in the New York City area has more:

Con Edison’s fleet of approximately 1,700 diesel trucks is using cleaner-burning B-20 biodiesel fuel, 20 percent of which is derived from soybeans. The soy-based portion of the fuel is a renewable resource that will help the company offset almost 400,000 gallons of petroleum per year. Newer diesel vehicles also will be equipped with special exhaust filters for even cleaner tailpipe emissions.

“Whether reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our own facilities, or promoting ‘green’ alternatives and energy savings tips with our customers, Con Edison has been a recognized industry leader in advocating for a cleaner, safer planet,” said Randolph S. Price, vice president for Environment, Health and Safety. “We are committed to mitigating climate change, and will continue to embrace new technologies and progressive corporate policies that embody our pursuit of environmental excellence.”

The story goes on to say that Con Ed is replacing 50 of its smaller vehicles with hybrids this year and working on the development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

USB: Soy-Biodiesel Unfairly Blamed

Soybean growers say their crop is being unfairly maligned in the Food-versus-Fuel debate. Members of the United Soybean Board gathered in Indianapolis, Indiana this week, and part of what they are discussing is how to counter arguments supporting that viewpoint.

Gary Truitt’s Hoosier Ag Today has more details from the meeting:

During the discussion, there was considerable debate on how the soybean industry should respond to the Food vs. Fuel issue. Karen Fear from Montpelier, IN, said soy-biodiesel is being unfairly criticized, “We need to get the word out so that people back this more.” Jack Reed from Washington County said the soybean is a perfect example of how farmers can produce both food and fuel, “When you take the oil out of the soybean you will have 80% of the soybean left which is meal.” From that meal, you can make livestock feed and a variety of human food needs. Reed said it is not an either or situation.

Indiana USB representative Jim Schriver said, unlike ethanol, very little of soybean production is going into fuel production, “Only about 2% of our soybean production goes into fuel production.” He said the real issue is the price of oil. Not only is the high price of oil causing energy prices to rise, but it has caused a dramatic increase in soybean oil demand.

The story goes on to point out how this country is trying to find an alternative to outrageously high-priced petroleum… and soybean oil is a viable alternative. In addition, farmers are large users of energy, so why shouldn’t they be producing some of what they are using. Amen to that!

Mandatory Biodiesel Survey Proposed

The government wants to know more about the biodiesel production operations in this country.

This story from Biodiesel Magazine says the U.S. Energy Information Administration wants a mandatory biodiesel survey. The information would be gathered in compliance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which directed collection of information on biofuels:

The survey would collect data on biodiesel and coproduct production, sales and tax credits, and feedstocks. “The survey is given to all registered biodiesel producers,” said Marie LaRiviere, Energy Information Administration spokeswoman.

The survey would be the first of its kind, although similar information has been gathered by the EIA in the past. “EIA has, in the past, estimated some of the data we will be collecting based on, among other things, program reports collected by the [USDA] Commodity Credit Corporation,” LaRiviere said, who added that the CCC program ended in 2005. “This survey will provide a more complete statistical picture of the biodiesel industry and provide it on a regular monthly basis.”

In addiition, the agency is also looking to collect historical data for a one-time supplement.

The Cost of Biomass

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Sarah here:

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

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Cellulosic Ethanol Co-Products

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Julie here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Making Ethanol From Dry Peas

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

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

You can listen to my interview with him here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Answering Ethanol Plant Location Questions

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

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

You can listen to my interview with David here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Ethanol Plant Site Selection

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

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

You can listen to my interview with Lance here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Rural Development Helping Rural Communities

Tony CrooksWe had USDA Rural Development represented here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference by Tony Crooks. He works with their rural business cooperatives program and has done a lot of work with communities in the area of ethanol and biodiesel.

The challenge he says we have today in rural communities is the large capital outlay to get a biorefinery started so USDA is looking at creative ways to help them. He highly suggests that a community have a community development plan so they can better decide if a plant would be in their best interest. Ways that USDA Rural Development can help is with grants and guaranteed loans. He says they’re looking for communities who need financial assistance, especially in the second generation cellulosic area.

You can listen to my interview with Tony here:

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

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album