Making #Ethanol the Consumers’ Choice

nec16-willcoxAn expert on consumer marketing offered some recommendations on how to make ethanol the natural choice for consumers during the National Ethanol Conference (NEC) in New Orleans this week.

Matthew Willcox, executive director of the Institute of Decision Making, gave a presentation on how insights from behavioral science can be used by fuel marketers to affect consumer choice at the pump regarding ethanol use. Willcox also released a report on the topic, which was commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

Among his recommendations:

Rather than pitching products on the basis of benefits, ethanol marketers should also consider how to mitigate the feelings of potential losses that may arise when moving from the status quo choice.

Make the example of others adopting the behavior change you require visible to the people whose behavior you want to change. For ethanol, marketers might consider making messages about how many cars are powered by ethanol, how many miles are driven, or simply how many people have chosen ethanol-based fuels more prominent.

Framing benefits in the present is important. So to communicate the benefit that ethanol based fuels are cleaner, think about how that can be made visceral and immediate.

Listen to Willcox’s presentation here: Matthew Willcox at NEC16

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Economic and Octane Benefits of #Ethanol

The latest study on the economic impact of the ethanol industry released at the National Ethanol Conference this week shows the renewable fuel added $44 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product and supported nearly 360,000 jobs last year.

nec16-cooper The study, conducted by ABF Economics, quantified the impact of domestic ethanol production in 2015 on the national economy. “It really highlights the enormous contribution this industry makes to our nation’s economy and workforce, particularly in rural areas,” said Renewable Fuels Association Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper. He notes that the ethanol industry also helped boost household income by $23.5 billion and increased federal, state and local taxes by $8.7 billion.

“We also look at the impact on the economy from displacing oil consumption,” Cooper added. “The industry produced 14.7 billion gallons of ethanol last year, which was a record, and that meant we didn’t need to import 527 million barrels of crude oil.”

Listen to an interview with Cooper here: Interview with Geoff Cooper, RFA

nec16-octane-2While the economic benefits of ethanol may be less significant today with lower oil prices, the higher octane benefits of the renewable fuel are unaffected by price fluctuations. Cooper hosted two panels at the NEC this year focused on those high octane benefits. “Ethanol’s octane rating of about 113 is far superior to the octane rating of other gasoline components that come out of a refinery and that makes ethanol extremely valuable to refiners and gasoline blenders,” said Cooper.

One panel on Tuesday focused on “Octane 101” and a Wednesday panel went into more detail on the economic and environmental benefits of higher octane fuels. Experts on that panel included Robert McCormick with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Confluence Consulting president Vincent Kwasniewski; and Platts biofuels analyst Jordan Godwin.

Listen to that panel here: Second NEC Octane Panel

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

#RFANEC Panel on Marketing Higher Ethanol Blends

nec16-sheetzA really interesting session on getting more higher ethanol blends in the retail market unfortunately got cut a little short at the National Ethanol Conference this week due to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s visit, but you can listen to the presentations by two industry leaders here.

Pennsylvania-based Sheetz, Inc. is a family-owned chain of gas station/convenience stores located in six states. Michael Lorenz, Sheetz executive vice president of petroleum supply, says they made a commitment last year to put E15 in 60 North Carolina stores. “We’re currently actually in 34 stores, so it’s kind of a dubious honor but we’re the single largest retailer of E15 in the country,” said Lorenz to applause. “We also plan to do another 100 locations in four other states.”

In his presentation, Lorenz talks about why they chose to start in North Carolina, why the believe in E15, and how they are educating consumers about the fuel. Michael Lorenz of Sheetz at NEC16

nec16-protecThe job of Protec Fuel is to help retailers like Sheetz get the infrastructure they need to offer higher ethanol blends to consumers.

“We do station infrastructure and conversion, we handle E85 and E15 blending, we handle all the full logistics for them,” said Protec CEO Todd Garner. “So, essentially it’s a turnkey operation that allows the retailer to really not have to lift a finger to use E85 and E15.”

Garner was okay with having to give up some of his time on the program to accommodate Secretary Vilsack, since it is thanks to USDA’s Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) that they are being able to help more retailers offer higher ethanol blends. “We estimate about an extra 215 stations that we’re going to include into our existing infrastructure, which equates to about another 1000 dispensers that we will install over the next year or so,” said Garner.

Listen to Garner’s presentation here: Protec CEO Todd Garner at NEC16

View the Protec Fuel powerpoint presentation.

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

High Octane Discussion at #RFANEC

nec16-panel-1With “Fueling a High Octane Future” as the theme for the 21st annual National Ethanol Conference, it was appropriate that the first panel focus on ethanol’s high octane properties and how they translate into high performance.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper moderated a panel of experts including Brian West with Oak Ridge National Laboratory; MathPro president Dave Hirshfeld; and Tom Leone, Powertrain Research & Advanced Engineering for Ford Motor Company.

The discussion included the basics of what octane is, how octane is measured, and how ethanol fits into that equation. Listen to the panel here: NEC16 Octane/Performance Panel

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

USDA Secretary Visits #RFANEC Again

nec16-vilsack-bobAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the National Ethanol Conference for the last time in the position he has held under President Obama for both terms.

During his appearance, Vilsack announced some good news for the ethanol industry – new research showing significant improvement in ethanol production efficiency.

“This study we just published today looks at the ratio of the energy used to produce a gallon of ethanol and the energy that it creates, and the ratio has improved significantly,” said Vilsack.

According to the study, between 1991 and 2010, direct energy use in corn production has dropped by 46 percent per bushel of corn produced and total energy use per bushel of corn by 35 percent. Moreover, between 2005 and 2010, direct energy use fell by 25 percent and the total energy use by 8.2 percent per bushel—meaning that between 2005 and 2010, the energy required per bushel of corn produced dropped by about 5 percent.

“The bottom line is, today, more energy is being produced from ethanol than is used to produce it, by factors of 2 to 1 nationally and by factors of 4 to 1 in the Midwest. There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the bio-economy and the role biofuels and advanced biofuels will play in that future, and I am confident this administration has acted aggressively to expand the groundwork to support that brighter future,” Vilsack said.

Listen to Vilsack’s address to the NEC here: USDA Secretary Vilsack at NEC16

Vilsack answers press questions on Cuba, FFVs, ethanol efficiency and more – Sec'y Vilsack NEC press avail

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

RFA Launches #FlexMyChoice Campaign

nec16-flexThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) launched a new campaign today at the National Ethanol Conference (NEC) designed to help the industry voice support for flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs).

The “Flex My Choice” effort is aimed directly at automakers, auto dealerships, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to the fact that automakers have begun to limit FFV models as the government phases out CAFE credits for producing FFVs.

“The auto companies claim there has not been meaningful consumer demand for these vehicles and the incremental cost, albeit trivial, cannot be justified in the absence of a more balanced CAFE regime,” said RFA CEO Bob Dinneen during his state of the industry address. “The ethanol industry needs to demonstrate the continued enthusiasm for FFVs. We want to raise our voices so that E85 and other mid-level ethanol fuels remain viable options for consumers.”

As part of the campaign, RFA intends to distribute 75,000 postcard pamphlets to targeted parties across the country in the hopes of changing the conversation on the future of FFV production. The postcard pamphlets will contain five panels: the first panel is a brief introduction to the issues; panels 2 through 4 are individual postcards to General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (the “Detroit Three”); and the fifth panel contains a pledge that consumers can drop off at their local auto dealership. Additionally, the campaign launched two petitions on directed at the automakers and the EPA respectively.

RFA vice president of industry relations Robert White says the campaign intends to ensure that consumers have choices when it comes to buying and fueling their vehicles. “Thanks to USDA, the ethanol industry, and agriculture, 2016 will mark the largest expansion of E85 stations in history; it is not the time to stop the momentum,” said White. “This campaign will send a clear signal to the automakers, their auto dealerships, and the EPA that there is a real demand on the part of consumers for more vehicle choices, more choices at the pump and increased access to higher ethanol blends.”

White explains more about the need for the campaign and how to participate in this interview: Interview with Robert White, RFA

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Former Oil Company President at #RFANEC

The former president of a big oil company was very critical of the oil industry during his keynote address at the 2016 National Ethanol Conference in New Orleans Tuesday.

nec16-hofmeisterJohn Hofmeister was president of Shell Oil Company for three years, but after he left the company in 2008 he founded Citizens for Affordable Energy and wrote a book called “Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an energy insider.” Straight talk was definitely what Hofmeister shared with attendees at the NEC.

“Oil is a contrived market,” Hofmeister began, talking about the current state of low oil prices and how Iran and Russia are impacting the situation with Saudi Arabia. “This is a contrived situation that has been created because of geopolitical considerations…and which can’t last very much longer.”

“What does this have to do with ethanol?” he asked. “I think it has everything to do with the United States’ absolute requirement to become fully energy independent to not be the victim of a contrived oil market.”

Hofmeister questioned why the United States imports seven million barrels of oil a day instead of developing “the alternative fuels we have in this country that can dismiss any dependency on foreign oil forever.”

Listen to Hofmeister’s insights here: John Hofmeister NEC16 Keynote Address

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

State of the Ethanol Industry at #RFANEC

Bob DinneenThis morning at the National Ethanol Conference, Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association, gave his annual State of the Ethanol Industry Speech in front of over 1,000 attendees. He said that the domestic ethanol industry remains strong and touted its ability to successfully navigate the vagaries of the markets and overcome the perils of policy uncertainty.

“The strength of the U.S. ethanol industry is seen in its record production – 14.7 billion gallons, its record blending demand – 13.75 billion gallons, record feed production – 40 million metric tons, and record greenhouse gas reductions – 41.2 metric tons,” said Dinneen. “Those aren’t the stats of an industry in retreat, that’s an industry confident, defiant, and prepared to weather any storm.”

Dinneen called the U.S. ethanol industry the “cornerstone” of the rural economy, noting that it added $44 billion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product and paid $10 billion in taxes last year. He drew a sharp contrast with what he characterized as the “boom and bust cycles” of oil extraction which, he said, can wreak havoc on economically-vulnerable communities.

You can read his full speech here.

You can listen to Bob’s speech here:

Speech on State of Ethanol Industry - Bob Dinneen, RFA

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Preview of National Ethanol Conference

Bob DinneenThe Reverend of Renewable Energy, Mr. Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association, in traditional fashion, provides us with a preview of the 21st National Ethanol Conference. The Conference kicked off this morning at English Turn Golf & Country Club with the annual NEC tournament. The weather threatened but held off for a beautiful day.

Bob says the agenda includes some great speakers including John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil Company and Founder/CEO, Citizens for Affordable Energy and our U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. It’s a very political year which he says is going to keep things interesting. In fact, we will also hear from Mike Murphy, Political Analyst, NBC News and Paul Begala, Political Analyst, CNN. That might even be entertaining.

Bob says that after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia the whole tone in Washington, DC changed. Between that tragedy and a shortened Congressional season due to the political conventions it will make it very hard for much action to be taken.

Here at the conference Bob says he wants to encourage members to look ahead, find and build new markets, feel proud of their industry. We’re also going to have a session on how to communicate with the consumers of today.

You can listen to my interview with Bob here: Interview with Bob Dinneen, RFA

EPA Chief Defends #RFS Decisions

house-mccarthyDuring a hearing on Wednesday, House Agriculture Committee members questioned EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, on many agency actions, including decisions made regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

In her opening statement, McCarthy defended the volume obligation requirements under that RFS that EPA set last year, “The final requirements boost renewable fuel production and provide for robust, achievable growth of the biofuels industry,” McCarthy said. “The EPA took steps to improve the administration of the RFS program and continues to approve new agricultural feedstocks, increasing the number of pathways that biofuel producers may use to qualify their biofuel under the program.”

McCarthy was questioned heavily by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) about various aspects of the RFS decision making process, including whether EPA has the authority to abolish the blend wall. “These numbers actually push through the blend wall,” McCarthy answered. King then began to question her about approval to sell E15 year round, which McCarthy said it had, but she backed off when King noted the vapor pressure requirements that keep E15 from being sold in many markets during the summer months.

Listen to McCarthy’s testimony and some of the questioning by committee members here: House Ag Hearing with EPA Chief