An Inside View of the Brazilian Ethanol Industry

Brazil_DF_StoryOi from Brasil! I have spent the last three days learning about the ethanol industry in Brazil. I have been traveling with a group of 20 international journalists in the State of Sao Paulo, where 60 percent of the country’s sugarcane is grown and consequently where the majority of the ethanol is produced.

I’ll be writing a series of posts about my trip over the next week but I can sum up my experience in one sentence. Where there is a will, there’s a way. When the country of Brazil decided in the 1970s during the oil crisis that it would become energy independent, it did. Today, Brazil gets the majority of its energy, both renewable and fossil fuel based, within its boarders. In addition, the majority of the ethanol produced in the country stays in the country.

Also, unlike the U.S., Brazil produces most of its electricity needs from renewable sources as well. Today, more than 80 percent of its power comes from hydroelectricity, but this poses a problem during drought conditions and will be a bigger problem as water issues become more paramount. A solution? To sell the extra electricity from the sugar mills into the grid during the months the plants are operational, which happens to be during the dry time of the year. UNICA, the organization that represents the Brazilian sugarcane industry, predicts that sugarcane could supply 15 percent of the power by 2017.

While I don’t agree with all of Brazil’s polices and many in the country agree there have been some good and bad decisions, they offer the world demonstrable options and thus, a shorter learning curve to solid energy policies and technologies.

You can take a virtual tour via my Flickr account. Until tomorrow, Tchau.

Thanksgiving Tweets for Farmers

Food, feed, fiber and fuel – American farmers do it all and today is a day to give a Thanksgiving tweet for all they do.

On Twitter, many agriculture advocates are taking part in tweeting the hashtag #thankafarmer today from 10 am to 12 pm CST. Twitter users are also expressing their gratitude with a #thankafarmer twibbon.

The twitter efforts are just a small way to recognize and thank American farmers for their great productivity in providing not only safe, affordable and abundant food – but also fuel in the form of ethanol from corn, wheat and sorghum and biodiesel from soybeans – as well as the many other feedstocks that can be used for fuel, like switchgrass and jatropha. The hard work of people in agriculture have given our nation food security and decreased our dependence on foreign oil.

If you are a Twitter user and unable to tweet because of previous commitments, please sign yourself into Twuffer, a twitter service where you can time your tweets. This document contains links to different websites that are advocating for US Farmers and some tweets to get you started.

Senator Grassley Pushes for E15

grassleyIowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who has always been an ethanol supporter, will push Congress to act if the EPA turns down a waiver request that will increase the amount of ethanol in fuel from 10 to 15 percent. The EPA is expected to grant or deny the request by December 1.

As Oil Price Information Service first reported, “I think Congress has to get involved if they don’t do it [approve blends up to E15] because we’re up against an E10 stone wall and we have to cross that wall or we’re not going to keep the [renewable fuel standard] mandates that are already in the law,” Grassley commented to reporters recently. “And if they don’t do what I think is very reasonable, to go to E15, then I think Congress has to intervene. But do I think Congress would intervene in the next three weeks before Christmas? I doubt it.”

But what would Congress do if E15 was approved, but oil companies wouldn’t sell it until they received liability protection or if more research was done, a local reporter asked Grassley.

“Well, I think I would go to the Congress and try to settle the issue in the Congress. And I would hope that industry would cooperate,” Grassley responded. “There are some oil companies that are very pro-ethanol, like Marathon, as an example. I don’t know what they would do, but considering the traditional ‘Big Oil’ fight against ethanol, I presume that they wouldn’t feel inclined to use what’s not available and not help us get to the mandate. I would hope otherwise, and I would be trying to do everything I could to do the otherwise,” he added.

Farm Bureau Pleased with Climate Bill Delay

nafbThe American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) is pleased with a decision by Senate leadership last week to delay consideration of climate change legislation until the spring of 2010.

During a recent interview before the delay was announced, AFBF president Bob Stallman said the agricultural organization opposed the climate change bill that was passed by the House, despite provisions included that were beneficial to agriculture. “That bill we believe will downsize American agriculture by at least 20 percent,” he said. “Long term it reduces our ability to produce food.”

Stallman says that AFBF is also opposed to the controversial concept of indirect land use change to determine the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels. “That issue is an attempt by the environmental community to remove the use of corn ethanol from the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Stallman said. “We’re opposed to that. Number one, there is no science, it’s pure speculation. And how you can say that an acre producing corn ethanol here is going to change a specific acre in a specific country is nonsense.”

Listen to an interview with Stallman here.

More Sorghum Going to Ethanol

Corn may have competition for ethanol use from less expensive sorghum.

sorghum checkoffAccording to a survey by the United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP), 29 percent of the grain sorghum grown in the United States this year will be used to produce ethanol – a total of nearly 137 million bushels.

“In the past year, the price differential has greatly benefited the bottom line of ethanol plants using sorghum as a feedstock,” said USCP Board Chairman, Bill Greving. “This means that the use of sorghum by ethanol plants has influenced the increased demand for sorghum in these areas where ethanol plants are co-located with sorghum production.”

According to the survey, ethanol plants in areas where sorghum is grown prefer to use sorghum because of its availability and favorable price differential. It also suggests if grain prices jump like they did during 2007, 2008 and early 2009, demand for sorghum will increase dramatically, which will mean even more sorghum could be used in ethanol blends. Better yet, sorghum for grain-based ethanol production qualifies as an advanced biofuel feedstock.

Renew Energy to Learn Fate Soon

renew_energyWisconsin based Renew Energy will either be finding a buyer or closing within just a few weeks. The Jefferson, Wisconsin plant currently produces about 210,000 of ethanol and employs 70. Renew noted that they are striving to sell the plant in hopes that a new buyer will keep the current employees.

According to the Wisconsin Ag Connection, Renew filed for Chapter 11 bankrupcy in February and at that time owned its creditors over $100 and was directly tied to the financial failures of Olsen’s Mill, which has since been forced into receivership. The grain handling company borrowed millions of dollars to help finance the construction and operation of the ethanol plant and wasn’t able to pay back its creditors because of the slowdown in the ethanol industry. Olsen’s also handled all the corn purchasing agreements for Renew Energy.

Renew Energy converted the former Cargill Malt in Jefferson, the largest malting plant in the world.

GPS App Finds 85 Percent Ethanol Stations

Want to know where you can buy E85? There’s an app for that now.

garminThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) today launched a new application for Garmin GPS units that that maps out the location of E85 (85% ethanol/15% gasoline) for users with flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs).

“The most frustrating thing for many FFV owners is not knowing where they can fill up with higher level ethanol blends, like E85,” said RFA Director of Market Development Robert White. “With this new feature, drivers going to the grocery store or to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving will know the exact location of the nearest E85 pump.”

Using the Garmin navigation system, FFV owners can download station locations and program their device to guide them to upcoming E85 stations. The Garmin application is available for download on There, consumers can download individual state data, a combination of states, or national data directly to their computer and then to their Garmin devices. Directions for installing this point of interest (POI) data are now available.

While the program is currently only available for Garmin GPS units, RFA is working to bring this data to other navigation systems and will update station location data quarterly.

Growth Energy Urges Action in California and Congress

Ethanol advocacy group Growth Energy sent letters to the California Air Resources Board and members of Congress today to address issues that could impact the expansion of ethanol.

Growth EnergyIn California, Growth Energy is calling on the Air Resources Board (ARB) to reopen comments on the low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) in light of undisclosed documents recently uncovered related to the rulemaking process.

Through a public records request, Growth Energy uncovered numerous previously undisclosed documents and comments from ARB consultants that cast doubt on ARB conclusions and others that appeared to influence ARB’s assumptions. Following the discovery, Growth Energy issued a letter to ARB, calling on them to reopen the public comment period and allow comment on all documents received by ARB in connection with the LCFS as mandated by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). These include documents commenting on detailed environmental analyses of the LCFS developed by other corn ethanol stakeholders, including the Renewable Fuels Association and the New Fuels Alliance.

Meanwhile, on the national level, Growth Energy is asking Congress to fix a tax glitch in the program intended to promote the installation of pumps that dispense higher level ethanol blends. Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis says the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit should allow fuel vendors to recapture up to $50,000, or 50 percent, of the total cost of installing alternative fuel dispensing systems but an IRS interpretation is only allowing retailers to take credit for a portion of the new pump, instead of the entire pump.

Legislation was introduced by Reps. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, D-S.D., and John Shimkus, R-Ill., to correct the IRS interpretation, but Growth Energy suggests making the technical correction in the 2009 tax extenders package.

DF Cast: Crunching the Renewable Identification Numbers

df-logoA big issue in the current Renewable Fuels Standard … as well as the new RFS2 under consideration by the EPA … is the Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs).

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we listen in on the conversation from the recent 2nd Annual RINWorld Summit held in Dallas, TX where the EPA’s John Wienrauch, Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAC) and Erv Pickell, Office of Enforcement Compliance Insurance briefed attendees on some issues with RINs and the current RFS and what we could see with the new RFS2.

Some of the current problems include unregistered users generating invalid numbers, duplicates RINs and even some fraud out there. And once a bad RIN is out there, it affects everyone down the line. But for the most part, those issues seem to be honest mistakes. Pickell says the EPA has been more forgiving with those who have self-reported their problems, but tighter controls will have to rein these issues in the future, especially with the new RFS2.

Weihrach says it comes down to the three Rs: registration, record-keeping and reporting.

It’s an important conversation, and you can here more of it here:

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

New North Releases Cellulosic Feasibility Study

woodwasteNew North, Inc. has recently released Phase 2 of a study on the feasibility of cellulosic ethanol plant in Niagara, an area in Northeast Wisconsin. Phase 2 demonstrates the availability of feedstocks to the plant, primarily wood resources, should the plant be able to produce ethanol using a diversity of feedstocks. The news is positive as many local community members and companies have expressed interest in providing feedstocks to the plant.

Phase 1, which was released this past July, studied the surrounding biomass resources in order to determine if a cellulosic plant could be sited in the region. Both parts of the report were conducted by Resource Analytics. The study also notes the possibility of creating switchgrass supplier cooperatives in conjunction with the establishment of an ethanol plant over the coming years.

“As second generation biofuels emerge as a fuel source, the New North is well positioned to take advantage with the resources and infrastructure necessary to create them,” said Jerry Murphy, Executive Director of the New North, Inc. “This study has demonstrated that a cellulosic ethanol facility at the former Niagara paper mill site has a great deal of promise for potential investors.”