Laid Off NREL Workers Get Jobs Back

Cindy Zimmerman

Bush at NREL It was awkward, to say the least, that in the midst of President Bush promoting the need for more research into alternative domestic fuels, funding was cut for the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, CO. So, before the president made his appearance at the NREL today, some 32 workers who were just laid off two weeks ago were given their jobs back. Needless to say, it was going to look bad for the president to show up there and talk about the important work they are doing and how he wanted to put more money into this research when they had just had their budget cut by $28 million dollars. Kind of hard to explain, but the president did attempt to do so by blaming it on a budget mix-up.
I recognize that there has been some interesting — let me say — mixed signals when it comes to funding. The issue, of course, is whether or not good intentions are met with actual dollars spent. Part of the issue we face, unfortunately, is that there are sometimes decisions made, but as a result of the appropriations process, the money may not end up where it was supposed to have gone. I was talking to Dan (NREL director Dr. Dan Arvizu) about our mutual desire to clear up any discrepancies in funding, and I think we’ve cleaned up those discrepancies. My message to those who work here is we want you to know how important your work is; we appreciate what you’re doing; and we expect you to keep going it and we want to help you keep doing it.
(Read all of the president’s remarks here)
I just thought the whole thing was kind of amusingly ironic. I had been sent a link to this December 20 article in the Rocky Mountain News about the layoffs at NREL, right after the president’s State of the Union speech, but I forgot about it until now. Thanks to my friend Erick in Nebraska for sending me that article.
The AP wire article on the President’s NREL visit today also headlines the budget story. It notes that only $5 millon of the $28 million shortfall was restored to the lab to rehire the workers, leaving $23 million still short. That, according to the article has “forced delays in research subcontracted to universities and companies.”

Government, Research

“Ethanol Has Arrived”

Cindy Zimmerman

RFA The 11th Annual National Ethanol Conference officially got underway in Las Vegas this morning with RFA President Bob Dineen’s “State of the Industry” address.
My friends, ethanol has arrived…
In 2005, the U.S. ethanol industry contributed more than $32 billion to Gross Domestic Output, $5 billion to household income, nearly $2 billion to federal taxes, $1.6 billion to state and local taxes, added $6 billion to net farm income, increased average corn prices about 35¢ per bushel, and was responsible for more than 153,000 jobs in all sectors of the economy.

The full text of Dineen’s speech is available on the RFA website. As of 5:30 pm Central time, that’s about all that was posted on the conference “blog” but RFA’s communications guy Matt Hartwig promises there will be more “sights and sounds” to come.
Released at the conference today was a new report on the “Contribution of the Ethanol Industry to the Economy of the United States,” also available in PDF form from the RFA website link above. That report is the source for Dineen’s opening remarks. The report notes that the ethanol industry is one of the most significant success stories in American manufacturing over the past quarter-century. From a cottage industry that produced 175 million gallons in 1980, the American ethanol industry has grown to include 95 manufacturing facilities with an annual capacity of almost 4.3 billion gallons.
The report forecasts that “assuming an average capacity utilization rate of 95 percent, ethanol production is
projected to top 9.8 billion gallons by 2015.”
While interest is high in using other sources besides corn to make ethanol, the report says corn is “expected to remain the predominant feedstock, although its share likely will decline modestly by 2015” from the current 90 percent to about 86.5 percent.
The ethanol industry also is making significant improvements in yields. Based on improved technology and new plant designs, and reports of yields from new plants, we expect average ethanol yields to increase from the current level of 2.75 gallons per bushel to nearly 3 gallons per bushel by 2015. When this is taken into consideration, we project total corn utilized for ethanol production to increase from 1,586 million bushels this season to nearly 3 billion bushels by 2015.
Other speakers at the ethanol conference today included EPA Administrator Steve Johnson and Exxon Mobile Vice President Dan Nelson. Tomorrow will include Ag Secretary Mike Johanns and the governors of Kansas and Nebraska.
Hope to bring you more, but I have to get it from RFA to give it to you since I am stuck here at home while the boss is out in the field. If Chuck was blogging that event, I guarentee you would know everything that happened there today by now! Young Matt at RFA is still new to this blogging thing, but at least he’s trying. Gotta give him credit for that.


Bush Talks Energy In Wisconsin

Cindy Zimmerman

Bush Energy Speech Energy is the theme of presidential appearances around the country this week, as promised in the President’s Saturday radio address. He started off today in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at Johnson Controls. Much of the president’s remarks focused on investment in new energy technology, such as what is being done at Johnson Controls, especially developing new batteries for hybrid vehicles – advanced lithium ion batteries that are now used in cell phones and laptops. These batteries are lighter, they are more powerful, and they can be recharged quickly. Using new lithium ion batteries, engineers will be able to design the next generation of hybrid vehicles, called plug-in hybrids, that can be recharged through a standard electrical outlet.
President Bush also discussed ethanol, which he noted can be used in hybrid vehicles.
Now, we’re on the edge of advancing additional ethanol production. New technology is going to make it possible to produce ethanol from wood chips and stalks and switch grass, and other natural materials. Researchers at the Energy Department tell me we’re five or six years away from breakthroughs in being able to produce fuels from those waste products. In other words, we’re beginning to — we’re coming up with a way to make something out of nothing. And this is important because it’s — economics are such that it’s important to have your ethanol-producing factories or plants close to where the product is grown.
That’s why E85 has spread throughout the Midwest, that’s where you’re growing the corn. Pretty soon, you know, if you’re able to grow switch grass and convert that into ethanol, then you’re going to have availability for ethanol in other parts of the country. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that gets thrown away that may be converted into fuel, but it’s not just located in one part of the country — it’s located around the country. And one of the goals is to make sure that ethanol is widespread. If we want to affect our consumption of oil, we want ethanol to be readily available for consumers outside certain parts of the — certain regions of the country.
And so we proposed spending $150 million for government and private research into these homegrown fuels. It’s an important initiative. We want to provide our consumers with reasonable, cost-effective ways to help us become less dependent on foreign sources of oil.

The third alternative vehicle fuel discussed by the president was hydrogen. When hydrogen is used in a device called a fuel cell, it can deliver enough electricity that could power a car that emits pure water instead of exhaust fumes. It’s an exciting new technology. We’re a ways down the road from bringing it to fruition, but we are spending $1.2 billion over five years to research this important opportunity.
Also noteworthy were the president’s remarks about natural gas and coal. Coal has the potential to reduce our reliance on natural gas. The problem is we’ve got to make sure that we can keep our commitment to the environment. Coal requires investment to make sure that we don’t pollute our air. And that’s the conundrum, that’s the difficulty with coal. This country is — I told you we’ve reduced our air pollution by 50 percent, in spite of the fact that our economy has grown substantially. We want to continue that commitment.
Lots, lots more good stuff in the president’s address today – read it all here on the White House website. Go to the Johnson Controls website if you want to watch the archived webcast.
It’s very notable that he is not taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach to this goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil – it’s going to take a combination of different domestic energy sources, lots of research and serious commitment on everyone’s part to both finding alternatives and conserving energy whenever possible.
Tuesday, Bush will visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado to talk more about getting domestic fuel in the pipeline as fast as possible.

Ethanol, Government

Ethanol Recipe

Cindy Zimmerman

The Associated Press circulated this article that originated in the Kansas City Star which includes a sidebar on how to make ethanol from corn. I thought it was so interesting I decided to make a recipe out of it! (Warning: do not try this at home!)
recipe graphic
So, here’s your basic recipe for ethanol:
(calls for 16 million bushels of corn to make 45 million gallons of ethanol – per year)

First, take 315,000 bushels of corn (per week), tested for quality
Ground corn into flour and mix well with hot liquids and enzymes to convert the starches into sugar for fermenting.
Add yeast to newly converted sugars; mixture will turn into alcohol as carbon dioxide gathers at the top of the fermenting tank.
Pump this mixture of solids, alcohol and water (called “beer mash”) into tanks; heat until gravity separates the liquids from the solids.
Use molecular sieve to separate water from the alcohol – which creates 200 proof grain alcohol – also known as ethanol.
Separate out your by-products – carbon dioxide and dry distiller’s grains – and save for later use (both can be sold separately)
Finally, poison your ethanol with a little dab of natural gasoline (a federal requirement to keep people from drinking it instead of putting it in their cars)
Result: 95 percent pure ethanol which can now be blended with gasoline and sold as E85 or E10
Total time: 2-3 days from delivery of corn to finished product



Stalk Car Race

Cindy Zimmerman

Chevy pace car General Motors made ethanol history Friday when a Chevy Silverado E-85 Flex Fuel Vehicle (FFV) served as the pace car for the GM Flex Fuel 250 at Daytona race, starting the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, according to a news release.
“GM is delighted to be able to sponsor the event tonight,” said Ed Peper, Chevrolet general manager. “We are delighted to bring a lot more awareness to the benefits of ethanol to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.”
Ethanol Promotion and Information Council executive director Tom Slunecka was in Daytona for the event and congratulated General Motors for its success in creating consumer awareness of the value and benefits of ethanol. “GM’s promotion of E-85 fuel is helping to build the infrastructure needed for the ethanol industry to continue growing and replacing millions of barrels of non-renewable oil,” said Slunecka.
GM is really getting into this ethanol thing in a big way. If you haven’t checked out GM’s “Live Green, Go Yellow” website yet, you really should. It’s quite the deal. I would call the whole campaign very farmer friendly. For a little fun, play the Stalk Car Race game on the site. It’s cute – not real challenging, but cute.

Car Makers, EPIC, Ethanol, Flex Fuel Vehicles, Racing

How About A Chance To Win An iPod

Chuck Zimmerman

New Holland If you’ve wanted to own an Apple video iPod then here’s your chance. It’s the New Holland “Down on the Farm” Classic iPod Keepsake Contest. One lucky winner will be drawn to win a new 30GB video iPod. The contest starts now and will run through March 15 with the winner being announced here and on all ZimmComm blogs on March 20, National Agriculture Day.

In case you’re not familiar with the Commodity Classic, it’s the combined annual meeting and trade show of the National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association. Both organizations with a stake in the renewable fuels industry. I’m sure there will be some news of interest for you there and I’ll be blogging the conference.

All the pictures I take and video and audio I record at Classic will be pre-loaded onto the iPod. One of those things will be country music star Michael Peterson’s performance that’s being sponsored by New Holland. Once we know who the winner is Michael will record a personal message which we’ll also load onto the iPod. And, there’s more. We’ll also load Michael’s newest CD, “Down on the Farm,” which you can currently only purchase from your local New Holland dealer. It won’t be out in stores until later this spring.

So, here’s how you enter. We’ve got an online form that you’ll need to fill out and just click on the submit button when done. There’s only a few questions. It’s fast and then you’re entered. You’ll get a confirmation email so that you know you’ve been entered. Or, if you’re at Classic, you can stop by the New Holland booth and enter there.

Agribusiness, Promotion

Miss Kansas Promotes Ethanol To Women

Cindy Zimmerman

Miss Kansas The reigning Miss Kansas, Adrienne Rosel, is discussing the benefits of ethanol for consumers and America at the Wichita Women’s Fair this weekend. Miss Kansas is meeting with women telling them that using ethanol-enriched fuel is something that women can do every day to help their loved-ones breathe a little easier, according to a media advisory from EPIC. The Wichita Women’s Fair is being held at the Wichita Century II Convention Center and runs through Sunday. Miss Kansas will be there through 5:00 pm Saturday February 18.


Fill Up, Feel Good E-Podcast

Cindy Zimmerman

e-podcast“Fill Up, Feel Good” is the name for the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council podcast. The first two podcasts were posted last month, the newest is online today. It features EPIC executive director Tom Slunecka talking about the importance of consumer education about ethanol in the wake of the momentum created by the State of the Union address and new promotions by car manufacturers. EPIC also sent out a news release addressing this same issue. Slunecka notes that the industry must meet the enthusiasm with education. “In December, consumer research showed that 70 percent of consumers still didn’t know what ethanol was or if they did they certainly weren’t considering putting it in their vehicle, so we’ve got a long, long way to go,” said Slunecka. “But with a platform like President Bush’s speech and General Motors’ announcement on E85 and Ford as well, we can start to move the needle.”
In the podcast, Slunecka discusses the current price situation of ethanol and encourages consumers to show their support for the move toward U.S. energy independence when purchasing new vehicles, even if E85 is not readily available yet in your area. “This is a chicken and egg type of conversation. You’ve got the ability to purchase the chicken today, and the ethanol industry will bring you that egg as soon as we possibly can.”
The “Fill up, Feel Good” podcast is available to download by subscription (see our sidebar link) or you can listen to it by clicking here. (8:56 MP3 File)

Audio, EPIC, Ethanol, Fill Up Feel Good

United For Biodiesel Quality

Cindy Zimmerman

USB The Soybean Checkoff has helped grow the biodiesel industry to where it is today and they want to ensure continued growth by ensuring the quality of the product. To that end, the checkoff-funded National Biodiesel Board has formed the National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission (NBAC), which developed and implemented a voluntary industry quality-control program known as BQ-9000. The United Soybean Board sent a release out about it this week providing information about the program. (link to release)
Quality standards in the BQ-9000 program are based on the American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D-6751 Specification for Biodiesel Fuel (B100, 100 percent biodiesel) Blend Stock for Distillate Fuels. ASTM specifications are used to ensure the quality standards of petroleum diesel, gasoline and even ethanol. Americans rely on these specifications every day and now that same confidence can be found in biodiesel carrying the ASTM D-6751 standard.
“We strongly encourage all biodiesel manufacturers to become accredited by participating in the BQ-9000 program,” says NBB Chairman Darryl Brinkmann, a soybean farmer from Carlyle, Ill. “This will help ensure fuel quality and the great engine performance that I and the millions of other diesel users have come to expect from biodiesel.”

There is a website for the program – – where marketers can get more information.
There was a pre-conference session devoted to BQ-9000 at the recent National Biodiesel Conference in San Diego. Here is a link to stories on the Biodiesel Conference Blog that include an interview with Leland Tong of Marc IV Consulting, which is helping to coordinate this program


Is the Price Right?

Cindy Zimmerman

Tuesday’s USA Today had an article on how expensive E85 is compared to full fledged gasoline or 10 percent ethanol blends that might have given some ethanol proponents heartburn. But, it is indeed a fact that E85 currently does cost more in most areas unless the retailer chooses to make it less expensive for promotional reasons. And the article rightly notes that the main reason for the higher price has been higher demand driven by refiner needs for ethanol to replace MTBE. And the article also rightly notes that E85 has about 72 percent as much energy as conventional gas. So, the conclusion is that if gas costs $2.286 per gallon, the price of E85 should be 72 percent of that or $1.646 per gallon. That makes sense and it’s possible that will someday be the actual case.
EPICBut, I had a little conversation about this yesterday with Tom Slunecka, executive director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, who pointed out that the benefits of ethanol to the environment, to the economy and to the domestic security of the country are intangibles that add to the value of ethanol.
“Consumers need to be purchasing ethanol more on its value and less on its price. And now more than ever, they need to be committed to making a change in philosophy as to what fuel they are choosing to put in their vehicles,” Slunecka said.
And that is also true.

EPIC, Ethanol