Agriculture Secretary Encourages E15 Adoption

vilsack at national ethanol conferenceThe best way to help the U.S. ethanol industry right now is to encourage the adoption of E15 by fuel retailers, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

During a telephone press conference on Tuesday promoting USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Vilsack was asked by a reporter what can be done to help the struggling ethanol sector right now.

“If you take a look at the long term history of ethanol, you’ll see that there are peaks and valleys in this commodity,” Vilsack noted. “Our focus is primarily on encouraging blenders to embrace E15. EPA has authorized the use of E15 and this obviously would be a God send.”

Vilsack added that they want blenders to register with EPA to get E15 in the market and they are looking for ways to encourage distribution. “At the same time, we’re also looking at alternative ways to produce ethanol through non-food feedstocks so we can spread the good work this industry’s doing in keeping gas prices down further than they would otherwise be.”

The secretary referenced an Iowa State University study that concluded ethanol helps save motorists up to $1.30 per gallon. “So we obviously need a robust biofuel industry,” he said.

Listen to or download Vilsack’s comments here: Secretary Vilsack on E15

USDA Plays Biofuels “Matchmaker”

USDAThe U.S. Department of Agriculture will be hosting a “match making day” later this month to promote connections between agricultural producers of energy feedstocks with biorefiners seeking to produce biofuels for commercial sale and consumption.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Navy, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Federal Aviation Administration will also attend the March 30 event at USDA headquarters with the goal being to improve awareness and increase understanding of the biofuels supply-chain links between those involved in feedstock production and the processors of that feedstock into biofuels, including logistical challenges, potential roles of service providers, and potential pitfalls.

At this meeting, federal officials will provide a short profile of each section of the supply chain and representatives from the participating stakeholders will respond with brief presentations that outline their experiences in that respective supply chain sector, barriers encountered and lessons learned. They will outline potential growth and opportunities.
Short presentations will be made at the top of each hour leaving time for discussion at each table, at which a representative from each of the sectors of the biofuels supply chain should be seated, as well as one or more government official.

The event is free but participants must register by sending an email to: with information on company, names and titles of attendees and position on the biofuels production value chain (i.e., feedstock seed developer or provider, feedstock grower or harvester, feedstock processor, feedstock transporter, feedstock storer, bio-refiner, feedstock machinery manufacturer/provider, other). More information is available by calling 202-401-0461.

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

Biofuels in Focus at First Farm Bill Hearing

The importance of biofuels to rural development was a focus of the first Farm Bill hearing by the Senate Committee on Agriculture this week.

“In the last Farm Bill, this Committee wisely focused on energy policy,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the panel. “Renewable energy – including biofuels, biomass, wind and solar – are an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country. Biofuels and biomass in particular offer exciting new opportunities for entrepreneurs, farmers, ranchers and growers.”

Vilsack recommended three areas for the energy title of the farm bill – more efficient production of biofuels developed through research, increasing co-products and by-products from biofuels production, and partnerships to produce biofuels for military aviation and jet fuel.

In addition, Vilsack told the committee that one way to maintain continued growth in rural areas is keeping the Renewable Fuel Standard. “That basically mandates a certain percentage of fuel mixture being bio-based, so we will continue to advocate for that,” he said.

USDA Funds Two Renewable Energy Programs

Two key programs that will encourage the use of renewable biomass and production of advanced biofuels is available through the FY 2012 USDA budget, according to the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. About $25 million will be made available through each program.

USDAFirst, the Repowering Assistance Program provides approximately $25 million in funding to biorefineries that have been in existence on or before June 18, 2008. The purpose of the program is to provide a financial incentive to biorefineries to use renewable biomass in place of fossil fuels used to produce heat or power. By providing this assistance, USDA is helping these facilities install new systems that use renewable biomass.

Eligible costs must be related to construction or repowering improvements, such as engineering design, equipment installation and professional fees. The application deadline for this program to receive funds for Fiscal Year 2012 is June 1, 2012. For additional details, please see pages 5232 through 5234 of the February 2, 2012, Federal Register.

Second, USDA also announced the availability of up to $25 million to make payments to advanced biofuels producers who expect to produce eligible advanced biofuels at any time during Fiscal Year 2012. To be eligible for these funds, an advanced biofuels producers must have enrolled in the program by October 31, 2011, even if the producer has an existing contract with the Agency.

Payments will be made to producers of advanced biofuels derived from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. These include cellulose, sugar and starch, crop residue, vegetative waste material, animal waste, food and yard waste, vegetable oil, animal fat, and biogas.

Contract payments will be made quarterly. For additional details, please see pages 5229 through 5232 of the February 2, 2012, Federal Register.

“President Obama has laid out a new era for American energy—an economy fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources that will be designed and produced by American workers,” said Vilsack. “These programs support that vision by helping biorefineries use renewable biomass as a replacement fuel source for fossil fuels and supporting advanced biofuel producers as they expand production.”

USDA Invites Applications for Energy Projects

The USDA is seeking applications to provide assistance for ag producers and rural small businesses to complete a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
“Renewable energy development presents an enormous economic opportunity for rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This funding will assist rural farmers, ranchers and business owners to build renewable energy projects, providing opportunities for new technologies, create green jobs and help America become more energy self-sufficient.”

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is designed to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption and help meet the Nation’s critical energy needs. For 2012, USDA has approximately $25.4 million budget authority available to fund REAP activities, which will support at least $12.5 million in grant and approximately $48.5 million in guaranteed loan program level awards.

USDA is accepting the following applications:

  • • renewable energy system and energy efficiency improvement grant applications and combination grant and guaranteed loan applications until March 30, 2012;
  • • renewable energy system and energy efficiency improvement guaranteed loan only applications on a continuous basis up to June 29, 2012;
  • • renewable energy system feasibility study applications through March 30, 2012; and
  • • energy audits and renewable energy development assistance applications through February 21, 2012.

More information on how to apply for funding is available in the Jan. 20 Federal Register, pages 2,948 through 2,954.

USDA Accepting REAP Fund Apps for Blender Pumps

Blender pumps give consumers flexibility and choice of ethanol blends when they are fueling up. Now, the USDA is accepting applications for REAP funds that can be used by retailers who want to install more blender pumps.

This is the second year that blender pumps have been authorized as part of the REAP program. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in 2011 that USDA had plans to install 10,000 blender pumps over the next five years.

That announcement and this year’s opening of the application process is welcome news to the Blend Your Own (BYO) Ethanol campaign, a joint educational effort by the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). The campaign will again offer free grant writing services to those interested in applying.

“This program provided funding for more than 250 blender pumps last year, providing many consumers with the choice and flexibility they deserve to pick the ethanol blends that work for them based on their vehicle, their beliefs, and their budget,” said RFA Director of Market Development Robert White. “Through the BYO Ethanol Campaign, we have the ability to assist retailers in applying for these funds and help USDA and the Obama Administration achieve the renewable fuel goals they have put forward. With E15 fuel registration due any day, these blender pumps will help spread this new blend across the country.”

“We can break the stranglehold oil has over our nation’s economy and energy future by giving consumers the option to choose clean American fuels that are not petroleum,” said ACE Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty. “In just five years, growing ethanol use has helped us reduce our reliance on foreign oil by more than 10% – to a point where imports are less than half of total demand. We can continue that move toward greater energy independence by getting more ethanol in front of more consumers.”

This program is designed to help spur rural development. This program offers funding for grants, and loan guarantees, but certain restrictions will apply on the size of the local communities and the businesses applying for the funds. Applications for this program are due on March 30, 2012.

USDA Approves Support for Oregon Cellulosic Plant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a conditional commitment of $232.5 million to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in Boardman, Oregon.

ZeachemThe commitment was made to ZeaChem Boardman Biorefinery, LLC (ZBB) through the Biorefinery Assistance Program. ZBB plans to operate a 25 million gallon per year biorefinery to be constructed on an industrial site in northeast Oregon, along the Columbia River.

“In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his vision for a new era for American energy—an economy fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources that will be designed and produced by American workers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This project and others like it will help to establish a domestic advanced biofuels industry that will create jobs here at home and open new markets in the Pacific Northwest and across America.”

The biorefinery will use high-yield cellulosic fermentation technology to produce advanced biofuels. The feedstock will consist of approximately 30 percent agricultural residue, such as wheat straw and corn stover, and 70 percent woody biomass from a local hybrid poplar farm. An existing 250,000-gallon per year cellulosic integrated demonstration plant at the site is currently generating operational data that will provide information needed for the commercial scale project, which will be located on an adjacent site. An estimated 51 percent or more of the biorefinery’s output will be advanced biofuel, and the remainder will be high-value biobased chemicals, such as acetic acid and ethyl acetate.

“This is a very exciting and innovative project and we are very pleased to see ZeaChem moving into the commercial stages of cellulosic ethanol production,” said Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC). “The advanced and cellulosic ethanol industry is breaking through in a challenging financial climate, which speaks to the evolution of the technology and the value proposition offered by the most innovative liquid fuel and chemical producers in the world.”

Ag Secretary to Speak at Ethanol Conference

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be a headline speaker on Friday, February 24th, at the 17th annual National Ethanol Conference, which is being held February 22-24 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando.

During his tenure, Secretary Vilsack has been a champion for all domestic renewable fuels, including ethanol. Secretary Vilsack has led the charge to modernize America’s fueling infrastructure through the installation of blender pumps. Under his leadership, USDA is investing in new ethanol technologies that will turn abundant materials like grasses, wood wastes, ag residues, and municipal solid waste into ethanol. And, Secretary Vilsack has been a steady voice is combating falsehoods about ethanol, including soundly refuting claims ethanol is the driving factor behind rising food prices.

Those interested in registering for the conference should do so by Thursday, January 25 to save $100 on the registration fee and ensure a room at the convention hotel. After Thursday, the room block will be released and the registration rate goes up. Registration information is available at

USDA Announces Support for Advanced Biofuel Plant

An advanced biofuels project in Iowa is being offered support from the federal government for a plant to make fuel from waste material.

fiberightThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a conditional commitment for a $25 million guaranteed loan under the Biorefinery Assistance Program for Fiberight to build a biorefinery in Blairstown, Iowa.

The loan will be used to construct a 55,000 square foot facility that will produce cellulosic ethanol by converting municipal solid waste and other industrial pulps into advanced biofuels, as well as using conventional renewable biofuel derived from seed corn waste. When operational, the facility is expected to produce approximately 3.6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. The process will use a cellulosic microbe to produce up to 15 percent more ethanol than traditional fermentation technology, and reduce energy inputs in the fermentation and distillation process. Fiberight estimates the project will create 38 jobs and save 16 jobs.

”Advanced Biofuels are going commercial – and the innovation behind turning trash into biofuels demonstrates how our industry can create jobs and solve our nation’s energy needs,” says Adam Monroe, President of Novozymes North America. ”Novozymes is proud to be a partner to this project, supplying the enzymes to turn household and office waste into advanced biofuels. We applaud the federal government for its leadership in helping bring biofuels to market.”

NovozymesBiotech company Novozymes is one of Fiberight’s partners in the project. ”Advanced Biofuels are going commercial – and the innovation behind turning trash into biofuels demonstrates how our industry can create jobs and solve our nation’s energy needs,” says Adam Monroe, President of Novozymes North America.

Under the conditional commitment, Fiberight must meet specified conditions before the loan guarantee can be completed. Other funding comes from the State of Iowa. Fiberight also received a $2.5 million grant from the Iowa Power Fund in 2010. The company will work with the Benton County landfill to supply a portion of the feedstock for the project. The total project cost is estimated at $59.5 million. Fiberight, LLC was incorporated in 2007 for the purpose of converting an existing ethanol facility into a cellulosic ethanol facility in Blairstown.