Views from the Political Right and Left at NEC

Positioned on opposite sides of the stage to their political leanings, two former presidential advisors took on a range of questions related to the 2012 election year and important policy issues in front of 1200 attendees at the 17th annual National Ethanol Conference (NEC) last week.

On the left, was senior advisor to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, while on the right was the former White House Press Secretary for President Obama, Robert Gibbs. Serving as referee and moderator in the center was Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen. The two political insiders took on a variety of hot button topics, such as the contraceptive mandate and who will win the Republican nomination. While they disagreed on most matters, especially the contraceptive mandate, both seemed to agree that Mitt Romney will ultimately be the Republican nominee.

Energy policy was the main topic of interest for the NEC crowd and the mini-debate between Gibbs and Rove took place on the day that President Obama made a major speech about energy in Miami, just hours from where the ethanol conference was being held in Orlando. Gibbs stressed the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy. “We used less foreign oil last year than we have in 16 years. We have to re-double our commitment to renewable energy, be it wind, be it solar, be it renewable fuels – and I’m not just saying that because I happen to be talking to you all,” said Gibbs, adding that we also need to be utilizing more domestic oil, nuclear, natural gas and coal. “All this has to go into what we do to solve our energy crisis. There’s not a magic bullet.”

Rove did agree with Gibbs on the “all of the above” approach, but argued that the Obama administration was not doing as much as it could. “Robert’s right, we’re using less oil today, in part because you’re putting something into the oil so we don’t need to use as much of it. We peaked out, ironically enough, in our use of oil in this country in 2005 – the year of the RFS,” said Rove, who noted that he was disappointed that the ambitious schedule for getting cellulosic ethanol production on-line under the RFS has not been realized. “And that’s why what you’re doing in innovation is so important. If we’re going to realize the promise of the RFS, it’s going to take exactly that.”

2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

State of the Advanced Ethanol Industry

A panel of advanced ethanol company executives at the National Ethanol Conference was at the same time optimistic and sobering about the future of next generation biofuel production.

“We openly acknowledged the ‘elephant in the room’ and that is that some of the numbers that people were talking about are bigger than we can expect in the immediate term,” said Advanced Ethanol Council executive director Brooke Coleman. “We also acknowledged that while the RFS grows linearly and aggressively over time, the industry grows more like a hockey stick. It’s very slow at the beginning and then there’s an explosion at the end.”

Listen to or download an interview with Coleman here: Brooke Coleman Interview

Coleman (left) moderated the panel which included Chris Standlee, executive vice president of Abengoa Bioenergy; Jim Imbler, president and CEO of ZeaChem; and Bill Brady, president and CEO of Mascoma. Each outlined the progress their companies are making in advanced biofuels.

“Mascoma has a project in the upper peninsula of Michigan, based on hard wood, and it is a joint venture with Valero and we also have a timber company in the joint venture as well,” said Brady, noting that they are an example of how companies are teaming up with other industries to produce advanced ethanol.

During the conference, ZeaChem officially announced the reception of a USDA project grant to use the company’s Oregon demonstration facility to develop advanced biofuels beyond cellulosic ethanol, including bio-based jet, diesel and gasoline. “We announced earlier this year that the first phase of our demo plant was completed, it started up, we’ll be adding to that,” said Imbler. “So, we’re well on our way.”

Abengoa, an international company with a significant interest in starch-based ethanol, is developing a commercial scale cellulosic plant in southwest Kansas. “We started construction in September of last year,” said Standlee. “We will have a facility that will be producing in 2013. It’s very exciting to be in that position finally to be able to say Yes, there is a reality and we see a strong future for cellulose.”

All agreed that financing for advanced biofuels is critical and depends on consistent policy to encourage investment, so accelerated depreciation, the production tax credit and government loan guarantee programs are all important to maintain.

Listen to or download the panel discussion here: NEC Advanced Ethanol Panel

2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

RFA Working Hard to Get E15 to Market

When people call Kristy Moore and ask her what she’s doing, she usually answers, “I’m just sitting around changing the nation’s fuel, and I might take a nap after lunch.”

Moore is the Renewable Fuels Association‘s Vice President for Technical Services and she is totally focused on helping the ethanol industry, fuel retailers and consumers make the move to 15% ethanol blended fuel under the EPA waiver that has approved the use of E15 in 2001 and newer model vehicles. “Those vehicles represent 65% of the vehicles on the road today, but more importantly, 82% of the vehicle miles traveled,” she noted during her remarks at the National Ethanol Conference. “What that means is those are the vehicles that are filling up and refilling with fuel on a more frequent basis.”

The recent acceptance by EPA of the health effects testing that now allows retails to register for approval to sell E15. “We are proud to say that to date we have ten E15 registrations sitting on EPA’s desk waiting for their processing,” said Moore.

The next step in getting E15 to consumers is the formulation of a misfueling mitigation plan and Moore says RFA spent six months working on a plan to assure EPA that they will teach retailers how to offer the fuel and make sure that it gets into the right vehicles. That plan has now been submitted to the agency and RFA is continuing work on how the fuel offering will be implemented on the state level. “We’re going to take our E15 retailer handbook to the marketplace where it will walk them through how to meet the regulatory requirements on a the federal and state level so they can focus on consumer needs and growing this market in a safe, profitable manner.”

Listen to or download Moore’s comments here: RFA's Kristy Moore

2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Vander Griend Honored With RFA Award

The founder and president of a world leader in ethanol plant engineering and construction is the recipient of the 2012 Renewable Fuels Association Membership Award.

Dave Vander Griend founded ICM, Inc. of Colwich, Kansas in 1995 and developed it into the industry leader for the design, construction, and support of ethanol plants. Presenting the award, RFA chairman Chuck Woodside of KAAPA Ethanol noted the important role that Vander Griend has played in “helping ethanol producers improve efficiencies, develop new technologies and product streams and increase profitability” and adding that “his commitment to the industry is unquestionable and his passion for innovation seems limitless.”

Accepting the award, Vander Griend thanked RFA for working tirelessly for the ethanol industry. “This is not about what one guy can do but what can be accomplished when a whole lot of people work together,” he said. “What we’re doing here is an exceptionally unique thing that has been a blessing to agriculture, worked well to improve the price of grain and the opportunities for agriculture and what we continue to have is the opportunity to extend this quality product to improve the quality of the air for people in urban America.”

Vander Griend is pictured here receiving the award from RFA president Bob Dinneen (left) and Woodside.

Listen to or download Woodside’s presentation of the award and Vander Griend’s comments here: RFA Leadership Award Winner Dave Vander Griend

2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Ag Secretary at National Ethanol Conference

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressed his personal strong support and gratitude for the ethanol industry during an address at the National Ethanol Conference on Friday.

“We owe ethanol producers in this country a debt of gratitude because we’re paying less at the pump because of what you do,” Vilsack said, noting that prices are about $1 less than they would be without ethanol.

Vilsack also thanked ethanol producers for providing jobs, contributing to a record trade surplus in agriculture and helping to increase net farm income. “In 2011, net farm income for the first time exceeded $100 billion,” he said. “Even adjusted for inflation, this is the best farm economy we’ve seen in four decades and one of the principal reasons is because you all have figured out this new value-added opportunity called renewable fuels.”

Vilsack said he was pleased with the action taken by EPA to allow registration of E15. “If we’re worried about the Straits of Hormuz, if we’re worried about Iran, one way we can be less stressed about this is getting E15 in the tanks of cars across this country,” he said.

E15 is important to Secretary Vilsack, but so is maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard. “Make no mistake about this. Just because it’s in the law doesn’t mean it will always be in the law.” Vilsack says the success of the ethanol industry has gotten the attention of the oil industry which is trying to modify or eliminate the RFS. “We need to make sure we maintain the Renewable Fuel Standard. It is important to the security of this country that we move toward that 36 billion gallon mark.”

Listen to or download Vilsack’s speech here: Secretary Tom Vilsack at 2012 National Ethanol Conference

I also did a very quick interview with the Secretary, asking his outlook for the ethanol industry and the importance of maintaining the RFS. Listen to or download that interview here: Secretary Tom Vilsack interview

You can watch Secretary Vilsack’s speech here:

2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Ethanol Conference Panel Includes Opposition

Scott Faber has never been known for his love of ethanol.

In fact, Faber could be called the “architect of the food versus fuel campaign,” as he engineered much of the opposition to ethanol as lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Now he has joined the Environmental Working Group, an organization which also tends to position itself on the opposite side of the fence from ethanol.

Despite that – or perhaps because of it – Faber agreed to step into enemy territory and be a Washington insider panelist at the 2012 National Ethanol Conference Thursday in Orlando. He is pictured here joking on stage with Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen who said that when he invited Faber he had to promise him his personal safety.

The entertaining panel discussion also included Marty Durbin with the American Petroleum Institute, Shane Karr with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Advanced Biofuels Association president Michael McAdams, and Jon Doggett with the National Corn Growers Association. While there was disagreement between the panelists on several issues – such as the Renewable Fuel Standard, whether oil companies enjoy government subsidies, and mandating automobiles be made to use alternative fuels – there was also lots of good humor and mutual respect.

Listen to the panel discussion here: Insider Panel at 2012 National Ethanol Conference

2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

2012 National Ethanol Conference Scholarship Winners

Here are the 2012 National Ethanol Conference Scholarship winners. In the photo with leaders from the Renewable Fuels Association are Olumoye Ajao, Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal; Vinay Patel, Troy University; Anahita Eckard, South Dakota State University; Ted Elverson, South Dakota State University; Hunter Flodman, University of Nebraska; Jason Levar, Minnesota West Community and Technical College and Karen Lewis, Arizona State University. Not pictured is Yi Wang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I asked each of them to tell me about themselves and why they wanted to attend the National Ethanol Conference and what they hoped to take away from the experience. I think you’ll find their answers interesting. Perhaps there are some future industry leaders in this group!

You can listen to my interview with the winners here: Interview with NEC Scholarship Winners

Don’t forget to check out our photos: 2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Futurist Sees Future in Ethanol

Futurist Dr. James Canton says the biggest national security risk today is what he calls the “Petro-Risk” – and only biofuels hold the key to alleviating that risk.

“Clearly, biofuels are the future,” Canton said Thursday at the opening session of the 17th annual National Ethanol Conference. “For all intents and purposes, there’s not an alternative energy that’s non-CO2 that is ready today other than biofuel and the only biofuel that can scale and give us the energy we need is ethanol.”

Canton told the ethanol industry to get ready for “the battle for the barrel” and consider a bolder future that includes a complete biofuels infrastructure. “You have to vertically and horizontally integrate to create the next energy grid, the next vehicles – a complete infrastructure,” he said.

Canton, founder of the Institute for Global Futures, says advanced biofuels will protect America’s future economy and security. “Think different, think big,” he says. “This petro-risk is going to continue and we need to be ready. Petro-risk is geopolitical suicide.”

Listen to Canton’s address to the NEC here: Dr. James Canton at 2012 National Ethanol Conference

2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

The National Ethanol Conference Outlook

Renewable Fuels Association Chairman, Chuck Woodside (pictured right), CEO KAAPA Ethanol LLC, provides a look at the 2012 National Ethanol Conference in a short interview I conducted with him this morning just prior to the annual golf tournament. Chuck says there will be a lot of optimism and discussion about E15. In fact, he sees E15 as a big focus here and for the rest of this year.

You can listen to my interview with Chuck here: Interview with Chuck Woodside

I’ve also got a photo album started for the conference which Cindy and I will be adding to over the next several days. You can find it here: 2012 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

GROWMARK Announces Dieselex Gold Reformulation

GROWMARK and its member cooperatives are excited about the latest formulation of their flagship fuel, Dieselex Gold.

“It’s time to get excited and it’s time to show some passion,” said Kevin Carroll, GROWMARK Vice President for Energy, at the new reformulation “Gold Rush” kick off event for FS member cooperatives in East Peoria on Tuesday.

“Dieselex Gold is a product that has it’s beginning roots at least as Dieselex back in 1952,” he continued. “It really goes back to the beginning of our system, which was founded to provide quality petroleum products to our farmer patrons.” Carroll got a kick out of showing the 400 attendees at the event a receipt for the purchase of Dieselex from 1959. “Can you believe Dieselex at that time was under 15 and a half cents a gallon?”

Kevin Carrol opening remarks

Four specific areas were upgraded in the new Dieselex Gold formulation – detergency, corrosion inhibitors, stabilizing agents, and demulsifiers. In combination, these work together to fight sticky deposits known as Internal Diesel Injector Deposits (IDID) and improve the performance of ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) and biodiesel blended fuels.

Dieselex Gold Rush Photos