We are probably going to be hearing a lot more about producing ethanol from cellulose – that is, the non-food portion of agriculture residue such as cereal straws and corn stover. A major oil company, car manufacturer and biotech firm are going in together on a joint study to assess the economic feasibility of producing cellulose ethanol in Germany. According to a press release, the study is being done by Volkswagen, Shell and Iogen. You probably know who Shell and Volkswagen are – Iogen is a biotechnology firm located in Ottawa, Canada that specializes in cellulose ethanol, and also develops, manufactures and markets enzymes used to modify and improve the processing of natural fibres within the textile, animal feed, and pulp and paper industries.
A joint ethanol-related demonstration project between General Motors, the state of California, Chevron Technology Ventures, and Pacific Ethanol was made public this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. According to a GM press release, the project is designed “to learn more about consumer awareness and acceptance of E85 as a motor vehicle fuel by demonstrating its use in GM’s flexible-fuel vehicles.”
Here’s some of the details from the release:
GM intends to offer between 50 to 100 of its E85-capable Chevrolet Impala passenger cars and Silverado pickup trucks for consideration in the state’s annual competitive bid process. Flexible-fuel vehicles will be used by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) at various operations in Northern California and the state’s Central Valley. Chevron Technology Ventures intends to work with CalTrans to provide E85 fuel and install the necessary refueling pumps in these locations. Pacific Ethanol, a California-based ethanol production and marketing company, intends to provide the ethanol to Chevron Technology Ventures for the project.
Since California currently imports more than half of its crude oil, it has become a statewide priority to develop and grow diverse energy sources. The ethanol project is designed to explore the merits of E85 to help meet that goal, and its potential to meet and exceed California ’s high standards for fuel quality and environmental emissions.
“Governor Schwarzenegger strongly supports the development of alternative fuels to improve California ‘s air quality, reduce CO2 emissions, and achieve energy independence,” said Cal/EPA Secretary Alan C. Lloyd. “This demonstration program involving E85 fuel technology insures that California will continue to play a leading role in protecting the environment and public health.”
I’m not a big fan of Al Franken, but he says he’s a big fan of ethanol and biodiesel. At least according to an interview out this week with the liberal comedian and talk show host who just recently moved his show from New York to Minneapolis. Minnesota is Franken’s home state and the Associated Press reporter who interviewed him asked him about running for office in 2008, presumably against Republican Senator Norm Coleman, and Franken said he had not yet decided. Then the reporter asked if he did run if there were any key issues he would want to address:
A. I’m big on alternative fuel … biomass and biodiesel, ethanol and wind. I think we need to be developing more wind power, and we can do that in this region. …
Still, I wouldn’t vote for him … but that’s just me.
U.S. BioGen is moving ahead with it’s plans to build a 100 million gallon capacity ethanol plant in Morgan County, Colorado. Officials announced plans to build the renewable-energy firm’s first ethanol plant in Colorado last summer, but ran into a little snag at the end of the year with the plant’s exact location approval process. That has now been ironed out and plans are moving forward with groundbreaking expected later this year. The firm also plans to build plants in Nevada and Pennsylvania.
With the new year, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has taken over the leadership of the Governor’s Ethanol Coalition. Sebelius, who is a Democrat, succeeds Republican Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota as chairman of the bipartisan coalition of 32 state governors working to promote and expand ethanol production. Vice chairman of the coalition for 2006 is Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican. Sebelius and Heineman this week wrote letters to the U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy asking them to participate in a study on how best to expand the nation’s biofuels industry. According to a press release from Sebelius’ office, the Kansas governor said “the coalition will continue to promote expanding ethanol production from a wider range of feedstocks, including cellulose sources, and that they will work with Congress to provide adequate funding for the federal government’s biofuels research, which was included in last year’s energy bill.”
Fresno, California-based Pacific Ethanol is reporting “significant progress” in 2005, according to a press release on its annual stockholders meeting held the last business day of the year. The company, which was established in 2003, has the goal of becoming “the leader in the development, production and marketing of renewable fuels in the Western United States.” Pacific Ethanol currently has plans for five ethanol plants on the west coast and is also working “to identify and develop other renewable fuel technologies such as cellulose-based ethanol production and bio-diesel.” The company is publicly traded on NASDAQ, trading at around 11.00 per share when I checked it. Click on the NASDAQ link for the current company snapshot.
East is meeting midwest when it comes to domestic fuels. First it was North Carolina getting into the ethanol business, now it’s Maryland going biodiesel. Actually, there are already biodiesel refineries operating in Virginia and New York, but it’s safe to say that biofuels production has largely been a midwest phenomenon, since that’s where most of the corn and soybeans are grown. But, as the demand for alternative fuels grows, we are going to see more plants popping up in more populated areas. And those nice incentives for production included in the energy bill don’t hurt either.
There are actually two companies looking into building biodiesel plants in Maryland, which ranks about 18th nationwide in soybean production. One is a corporation called OffWorldWealth. This very diversified company is located in Columbia, MD – which is not known for much except being about halfway between Baltimore and DC – and being the birthplace of our oldest daughter! OWW started in 2001 as a research group exploring possible business opportunities in space. Now OWW is into all kinds of things, including biofuels. Interesting.
Here are links to a couple of good ethanol stories I found today during my usual Google news search.
First, here’s a Ganntt News Service story on how Brazil is far ahead of the United States when it comes to ethanol. Thought it was interesting that both Brazil and the US produce the same amount of ethanol – four billion gallons – but Brazil uses ethanol for 40 percent of its driving fuel, compared to only five percent in the US. Most of Brazil’s ethanol is made from sugarcane.
Closely related to that story is a Reuters News Service report that low ethanol fuel prices in Brazil are driving sales of flex-fuel vehicles. According to the report, The cost of ethanol fuel, which is distilled from sugar cane, is about 60 percent the cost of gasoline at the pump in Brazil. Although the flex-fuel motors can run on any combination of the two fuels, cost-conscious Brazilian motorists tend to fill their tanks with 100 percent ethanol.
And back here at home an Associated Press story out of Wisconsin reports that the rapid increase in ethanol plants being built in this country is creating a boom for companies that manufacture the equipment needed for refineries. With more than 30 plants under construction and at least ten more being expanded, the ethanol plant building business is at an all-time high, which is good news for the companies that make ethanol tanks and such.
It’s the end of the year and although I don’t have a “year in review” to offer I do have some statistics, reflections and ideas to share. Statistics as in traffic to the ZimmComm blogs. I’ll update this post if there’s a big change in the numbers by midnight (that is if I remember). ZimmComm is the publisher of DomesticFuel and also publishes other blog sites.
AgWired got it’s “official” start on March 15. In 9 1/2 months we’ve had 16,000 unique visitors who have visited a total of 51,000 times. I like the fact that we’ve had 1,000,000 hits. That’s a million folks! Page views is right at 750,000. I’m happy with this. Talk about WOMA. We’ve only promoted this site to about 1,300 people. Somebody is telling somebody else about it. A very tiny percentage of our visitors come from a search engine. Most type it directly into their browser or are using a bookmark.
This fall we started 2 more farm news blogs. World Dairy Diary was kicked off in August in advance of World Diary Expo. To date it’s had 7,000 unique visitors that have visited a total of 15,000 times. Our latest blog is DomesticFuel. We haven’t really promoted it yet but it’s already had 1,500 unique visitors who have visited 7,000 times. We’ll see a lot of growth in 2006 on these sites as we begin to develop and promote them more with the addition of new sponsors!
ZimmComm was started with the idea that it would be a “traditional” advertising agency. That was in March of 2004. Very quickly it was obvious that our talents could be put to use by our prospective clients in some non-traditional ways. For example, as former farm broadcasters, Cindy and I created Talking News Releases, a service that targets broadcast reporters and includes pre-recorded audio. We developed a list of farm and non-farm reporters to push these releases out to. This led to conducting audio production work for clients which is used on-air and online. The evolution of this service is now AgNewsWire. Besides distributing news releases to reporters we’re now posting them directly in front of farmers via website content managed by Quickfarm. This is “unfiltered” content that the farmer gets to read, interpret or just ignore. His/her choice.
I quickly realized that I don’t speak html and do not like designing and managing traditional web pages. At Steve’s suggestion I started a blog site. Once I realized what you can do with a blog I started preaching the power of the blogosphere and we now create blogs for clients and manage several of our own. I look at these blogs as online publications that contain media rich content (audio, video, pictures and perspective). This led to podcasting and the ZimmCast was born. We now produce client podcasts and expect to see this portion of our business explode in 2006. As I like to say, “create your own media.” Let your customers and members get what they want when they want it and wherever they want.
So I guess you have to say that we’re a “new media” company. We want to help our clients deliver their message directly to the people they want to reach in as efficient and cost-effective a way as possible. As my friends at Learfield are realizing, it’s time to get on the Long Tail.
Blogging: Think about it. How are you personally communicating with your members or customers now? Are you? Do you email some and snail mail others? Why not let them see inside your company or organization? Maybe it’s your CEO or maybe its a technician. Somebody on the staff probably has a blogger inside. Just don’t think that you can have the PR department ghost write for someone else. It will probably backfire. People want honesty and transparency. That’s what makes you credible. This new look inside will really set you apart from your competition. If you’re not sure who on staff can do this you might want to find out who already has a personal blog. You might be surprised.
Podcasting: The video iPod is here and the walls of traditional media are tumbling down. Even if you don’t think you’re a broadcaster you can hire a company like ZimmComm to create your own radio or tv show. You control the content. Your customers can subscribe to it (opt-in) and watch or listen to it whenever and wherever they want. That can be on their computer or on their portable digital media player. I can even do it on my mobile phone!
RSS: I’m not going to try to explain this. For a reasonable fee though . . . Actually I just want you to think of “feeds.” It’s the future, my friends. New browser software will have this built in. You can create custom search engine pages now that handle this for you. By this, I mean subscribing to feeds of information. This can be information that you produce like a newsletter. It can be audio or video which makes it podcasting. It can be any kind of content that you want to syndicate to your customers. They’re looking for it. Why not make it easy for them to get it. The best part is that it’s not email. You’ll probably see it showing up on websites using this icon:
That’s it. I’m done for 2005. I hope ZimmComm has helped you in your business in one way or another. We’re very excited about 2006. The new media business is just starting to heat up in agriculture. We’re proud to be a part of it and will see you onsite or online in the new year.
Two of the top ten news stories of 2005, according to the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), were related to energy and domestic fuel. Farm broadcasters voted high energy costs as the top news story of the year, and passage of the Energy Bill number four.
4. Congress passes comprehensive energy bill with Renewable Fuels Standard . After years of unsuccessful efforts, Congress finally passed an energy bill in July that included a 7.5-billion gallon Renewable Fuels Standard, or RFS, to be implemented in stages between 2006 and 2012. The inclusion of the RFS was a major victory for the U.S. ethanol industry. But, ironically, high energy costs have driven ethanol demand more than prospects of a government mandate.
Here’s the full list:
NAFB’s Top-10 Stories of the Year for 2005:
1. Energy costs spike and squeeze producer profitability.
2. Hurricane Katrina devastates Southern agriculture and snarls the U.S grain transportation system.
3. U.S. Supreme Court finds checkoffs constitutional.
4. Congress passes comprehensive energy bill with Renewable Fuels Standard.
5. Japan re-opens market to U.S beef.
6. Asian Soybean Rust has no impact on U.S. soybean production in 2005.
7. U.S. Senate Confirms Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
8. U.S. re-opens border to Canadian live cattle.
9. U.S Ag Secretary Mike Johanns holds dozens of farm bill listening sessions in partnership with NAFB.
10. U.S. corn crop is second largest ever as Midwest drought is less severe than thought.