We Say Goodbye to ZimmPoll

Jamie Johansen

zp-nh1As we say farewell to 2016, we also say goodbye to our ZimmPoll. For the past six years we have brought you a weekly poll on current events and issues impacting agriculture. The first ZimmPoll took place in November 2011 and asked the question, “How do you think agricultural interests will fare in the new Farm Bill?” Since then we have posted 289 ZimmPolls with the most response coming from one posted in June 2011 asking the question, “What do you think of USDA’s proposed GIPSA rule?”

Our latest ZimmPoll asked the question, “What 2016 ag news will have most impact on future?”

Reflecting on the top ag news stories in 2016 allows us to take a trip down memory lane. The easy majority winner in this poll didn’t take us back too far in history. The Trump cabinet is still being discussed and that will continue well in to 2017. As we look further into 2017, I am sure we will also continue to discuss upcoming mergers, the autonomous tractor, GMOs, biofuels and the ever-changing farm economy.

Here are the poll results:

  • New Trump cabinet – 75%
  • Mergers and acquisitions – 9%
  • Concept driverless tractors – 0%
  • GMO labeling – 8%
  • Higher biofuel levels under RFS – 0%
  • Farm economy – 8%

Thanks to New Holland for being our ZimmPoll sponsor for six years!


Memorable Moments for American Ethanol in 2016

Joanna Schroeder

There have been many memorable moments for the American Ethanol program this year and its driver Austin Dillon. The 2016 NASCAR racing season was a great one for Dillon finishing 14th in points and securing 13 top-ten CUP finishes during his third full season. Another great moment – Dillon winning the pole position in the Sprint Cup race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California – the season’s first American Ethanol paint-out.

Later in the season, Dillon advanced to the 12th Round in his inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. It was during this race that the series surpassed 10 million miles using E15 and Dillon’s race car featured an American Ethanol paint-out of his #3 Chevy at Phoenix International Raceway. At the end of the season, Dillon was ranked as one of the nine most improved drivers of the 2016 NASCAR Premier Sprint Cup Series season by FOX Sports.

NASCAR’s top three racing series have been racing on Sunoco Green E15 since the 2010 racing season. The American Ethanol program is sponsored by Growth Energy and the National Corn Growers Association and is helping NASCAR to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions without losing power or performance while helping the ethanol industry promote the benefits of ethanol to drivers and specifically encouraging consumers, who drive cars 2001 or newer, to choose E15 at the pump.

American Ethanol, E15, Ethanol, Growth Energy, NASCAR, NCGA

Iowa Breaks #Ethanol and #Biodiesel Records in 2016

Joanna Schroeder

Iowa’s biofuel industry had another record breaking year for production of both ethanol and biodiesel. In 2016, 43 ethanol plants produced 4.1 billion gallons, a slight increase from 2015 of 4 billion gallons. The most significant driver of demand was the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

“Setting another annual ethanol production record is a testament to the efficiency and hard work of Iowa’s ethanol plants,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw. “However, Iowa has the resources, both in corn and plant capabilities, to do much more. In order to unlock this wealth of untapped potential, we need to move beyond E10 and ensure that all consumers have access to higher blends of ethanol at the pump, like E15. The federal government needs to break down regulatory barriers to higher blends that serve no purpose other than to protect petroleum.”

On the biodiesel front, production also hit a record with 297 million gallons, an increase from 242 million gallons in 2015. According to IRFA, the increase was a result of policy certainty at the federal level in the form of the RFS, as well as the biodiesel tax incentive. Other drivers of demand for biodiesel were state policies specific to higher biodiesel blends including Iowa’s B11 excise tax differential.

“This record-busting year speaks volumes of the hard work and strength of Iowa’s biodiesel producers,” said Shaw. “Iowa is home to some of the most efficient biodiesel plants in the world and they took advantage of strong demand in 2016. As we turn the calendar forward to 2017, we unfortunately turn back to the policy uncertainty of prior years. The federal biodiesel tax credit expires on December 31st, and we don’t know for sure whether or when it will be reinstated in 2017. Regardless of the pending challenges of 2017, Iowa plants are well-positioned to remain number one in biodiesel production.”

Shaw added that for 2017 the organization’s top policy priority is securing funding for the Iowa Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program to enable more retails to install the proper equipment to offer higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.

Biodiesel, Ethanol, Iowa RFA

Molecular Velcro Boosts Algae to #Biofuel

Joanna Schroeder

Danny Ducat, MSU assistant professor, and Derek Fedeson, in the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory. Credit: G.L. Kohuth

Researchers from Michigan State University have engineered “molecular Velcro into cyanobacteria with the result being a boost to the microalgae’s ability to produce biofuels and potentially other products. The MSU scientists designed a surface display system to attach the blue-green algae to yeast and other surfaces. Early results show that this technology may prove the efficiency of harvesting algae and open new doors to improve the homes of artificial microbial communities as a means to produce more sustainable biofuel and bioproduct production.

“Inadequate cyanobacterial toolkits limited our ability to come up with biological solutions,” said Derek Fedeson, MSU graduate student and the study’s co-lead author. “So, we wanted to add another tool to the toolbox to expand the capacity of these bacteria, which can harness solar energy for the production of useful compounds.”

In the study, published in the ACS Synthetic Biology, the team focused on surface proteins of cyanobacteria to enable it to bind to specifically engineered surfaces. One particular strain of yeast has a molecular hook on its surface, which Federson engineered the bacteria to produce a “loop” on this surface. One challenge, said Federson, was getting the yeast to stick to the algae when they bumped into each other. Another challenge: the energy intensity and cost of separating microscopic cells and recovering the sugar.

“By changing the surface technology, we’ve proven that we can program these cyanobacteria for new interspecies and intercellular interactions,” said Danny Ducat, MSU assistant professor in the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory and the study’s senior author. “In terms of biofuels, engineered cyanobacteria strains could greatly reduce the high production costs by opening up new avenues for harvesting cellular biomass. For example, we can genetically program these cells to recognize and stick to specific materials, reducing the need for specialized and expensive centrifuges or filters.”

Future studies will explore how to improve the surface display and make the process more efficient.

advance biofuels, algae, Research

Pacific Ethanol, Aurora Coop Form Pacific Aurora

Joanna Schroeder

Aurora Cooperative Elevator Company (ACEC) has entered into a partnership with Pacific Ethanol with the resulting entity called Pacific Aurora LLC (PAL). Under the agreement, Pacific Ethanol is offering its Aurora plant assets, inside loop track and land while ACEC is contributing its Aurora West Grain Elevator located in Aurora, Nebraska, along with loop track, related land and other assets. ACEC will own 26 percent of the new entity offering $30 million in cash and grain operation assets while Pacific Ethanol will own the remaining 74 percent of the combined ethanol production, grain elevator and rail facilities of PAL.

Chris Vincent, ACEC’s President and CEO, stated: “We are pleased and excited to deepen our relationship with Pacific Ethanol. We will be combining Aurora Cooperative ‘s grain terminal and handling facility with both of Pacific Ethanol’s adjacent bio-refineries. Our plan is to unify both entities’ operations to gain efficiencies and enhance performance. Aurora Cooperative will use its years of grain origination and operations experience combined with Pacific Ethanol’s production expertise to greatly benefit Pacific Aurora, LLC. Bringing both companies’ resources together benefits our collective stockholders, and adds value and strength to our communities, the State of Nebraska and both the ethanol and grain industries.”

Under Pacific Aurora ACEC will manage the corn receiving operations and origination of all grain on behalf of PAL. ACEC’s ownership in pal, says the company, will also allow for its owners to participate downstream revenue and vertical integration of the grain industry through ethanol and create new marketing opportunities for its farmer owners.

“In this series of agreements, we will accomplish a major milestone for the company by refinancing the Midwest plants’ term debt at favorable terms, strengthening our balance sheet and significantly lowering our cost of capital,” said Neil Koehler, Pacific Ethanol’s President and CEO. “The expanded strategic relationship with the Aurora Cooperative allows us to directly benefit from farmer ownership in our ethanol business, which has proven to be a winning combination over the years in the ethanol industry. These transactions are immediately accretive to our shareholders and create new growth opportunities for Pacific Ethanol.”


Get Your Submission in for IRFA Video Contest

Joanna Schroeder

It’s time to get those submissions in for the “Fuel the Future” video competition, sponsored by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA). The annual competition awards a $1,000 grand prize to the Iowa high school student, or students, who create the best video about the benefits of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The winning entries will be announced during the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit on January 31, 2017 and on IRFA’s YouTube page.

Video submissions are due Friday, January 13, 2017 and should feature the benefits of choosing renewable fuels such as E15 and higher biodiesel blends.

“The video contest is an exciting opportunity for students to learn about the environmental and economic benefits of renewable fuels and earn a little money in the process,” said IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “We’ve had some great entries in years past and we can’t wait to see what creative new ways Iowa students come up with to educate consumers on why they should make renewable choices at the pump.”

Second and third place will also win cash prizes of $600 and $400 respectively. High school students in grades 9 through 12 needing some inspiration can view past winning videos here. For more information on the contest and official rules, click here.

Biodiesel, Contest, Ethanol, Iowa RFA, IRFA Renewable Fuels Summit

Biodiesel Grows, Food Prices Fall

Joanna Schroeder

As Americans celebrate the holiday season, they are paying less for food according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Price Outlook. While biodiesel production is higher than ever, the Consumer Price Index for grocery store items is 2.3 percent less than 2015.

“Food is a universal part of most holiday celebrations, and this year prices have dropped even as biodiesel production is breaking records,” said Donnell Rehagen, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB). “As we’ve said for almost a decade, more biodiesel production helps the food supply, despite what opponents incorrectly claim.”

This year (2016) marked a record for U.S. biodiesel production and renewable hydrocarbon diesel. NBB anticipates more than 2.6 billion gallons of biodiesel will be produced – a growing number each year since the implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“One reason biodiesel benefits the food supply is because it is made from fats and oils. When we grow protein to feed the world, we naturally get more fat and carbohydrates than we can eat,” said Don Scott, NBB’s director of sustainability. “One example is a soybean. To produce the oil needed to make just one gallon of biodiesel soybeans make 30 pounds of protein and 22 pounds of carbs and dietary fiber for the food supply at the same time.”

In other words, the world needs more protein to feed a growing population and this can’t be done, says NBB, without co-producing fat, which stores energy, as a byproduct. Speaking of fat, biodiesel can be produced from any fat or vegetable cooking oil including soybean oil, animal fats or recycled cooking oil.

According to a study by Informa Economics, by creating a market and value for unwanted soybean oil, biodiesel decreases soy protein meal by $20-$40 per ton. This is turn helps livestock producers with feed prices and ultimately helps consumers, says NBB, in the price they pay for meat.

“The bottom line is that biodiesel creates net benefits to food supply, and that’s worth a toast this holiday season,” Rehagen concluded.

advance biofuels, Biodiesel, NBB, RFS

Breakthrough Energy Ventures Launches $1B Green Fund

Joanna Schroeder

A new green venture fund has been created by Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) called Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV). The $1 billion investor-led fund will finance emerging energy technologies with the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to near-zero. The announcement was made earlier this month during the climate talks.

“It is extremely exciting for us to launch this fund as the next step in the commitment made by the Breakthrough Energy Coalition last year,” said BEV Chairman Bill Gates. “I am honored to work along with these investors to build on the powerful foundation of public investment in basic research. Our goal is to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world.”

Breakthrough Energy Ventures will be a collaborative effort between academia, public-private sector and governments. These entities will bring to the table an investor-led fund comprising scientific expertise. The fund, with no ties to any specific energy sources, will also attract the best scientists, entrepreneurs, and private sector experts to guide the fund’s trajectory.

In addition to the announcement of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the BEC also shared its “Landscape of Innovation.” This plan outlines the technologies that public and private investors might support in order to reach the goal of near-zero carbon emissions. The plan will also serve as tool for BEV to guide its investments.

Alternative energy, bioenergy, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change

Flint Hills Resources Awarded EPA Pathway Approval

Joanna Schroeder

Flint Hills Resources ethanol facility located in Shell Rock, Iowa has been given U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval for its cellulosic production using Edeniq’s Pathway Technology. The 120 million gallon per year biorefinery is the second in the U.S. to receive EPA approval for cellulosic production using Edeniq technology.

“We are greatly encouraged by the EPA’s rapid approval of this second registration,” said Brian Thome, President and CEO of Edeniq. “We are excited that a growing number of our customers are generating cellulosic ethanol, transforming the ethanol industry and benefiting our country.”

Jeremy Bezdek, Flint Hills Resources’ vice president, Biofuels & Ingredients, noted, “Our goal is to create as much value out of every kernel of corn as possible. The Edeniq Pathway technology helps increase ethanol yields and corn oil recovery, and allows us to produce cellulosic ethanol. We appreciate the strong partnership Flint Hills has with Edeniq and look forward to evaluating the potential use of the Pathway technology at our other plants.”

According to Edeniq, they are working to move ethanol plants through commercial trials and remain actively involved in the EPA cellulosic registration process on behalf of their plants despite the agency’s backlog.

advance biofuels, Cellulosic, EPA, Ethanol