Top 10 Efficiency & Technology Innovations

Joanna Schroeder

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) has released a Top 10 list of efficiency and technology innovations of the past decade. IRFA Vice President and Absolute Energy CEO Rick Schwarck noted that while a lot has been written about the ethanol and biodiesel industry since the passing of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, not enough focus has been on improvement in efficiency and technology innovations. The Top 10 list is a way of highlighting breakthroughs that have enabled the renewable fuels industry to persevere in challenging economic times, added Schwarck, while still producing low cost, high performance motor fuels.

Top 10 Efficiency & Technology Innovations Over the Past Decade (click on the link to learn more about each number):

1. Corn Production Gains: In 2001, the U.S. harvested 9.5 billion bushels of corn from 69 million acres, for a yield of 138 bushels per acre. In 2011, 12.4 billion bushels of corn were harvested from 84 million acres, resulting in a 147 bushels per acre yield.

2. Ethanol Yield Increases: Since 2001, the average ethanol yield in the U.S. has increased 3-5 percent to roughly 2.8 gallons per bushel.

3. Water Utilization Improvements: Over the past decade, water use in dry mill ethanol plants has dropped from 4.7 to 2.72 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced.

4. Energy Efficiency Advancements: Compared to 2001, ethanol production today requires 28 percent less thermal energy (from natural gas or coal) per gallon and 32 percent less electricity per gallon.

5. Lower Cost Feedstocks for Biodiesel Conversion: With roughly 80 percent of the cost of biodiesel production tied up in feedstocks, technology advancements that have made it possible to convert lower cost waste oils and fats into biodiesel have given producers much-needed feedstock flexibility to manage costs and maximize competitiveness.

6. Corn Oil Extraction: This process, whereby oil is mechanically spun out of distiller grains, was nonexistent in 2001 but is now adding value to approximately 80 percent of dry mill ethanol plants.

7. DDGS Enhancements: Ethanol producers learned how to lower the starch and sugar content of the dried distillers grains (DDGS), and advanced process controls have allowed DDGS to be dried more precisely, assuring a more consistent product.

8. New Catalysts for Biodiesel Production: Catalysts reduce the time and enhance the level of biodiesel conversion.

9. Advanced Process Controls: The adoption of Advanced Process Controls (APC) has brought a new level of precision to renewable fuels production.

10. Unit Train Utilization: Today ethanol’s most common mode of transportation is 80-100 car unit trains that power directly from an ethanol plant to the final destination.

Biodiesel, biofuels, Distillers Grains, Ethanol, Iowa RFA

Biofuel Groups File Brief in RFS Challenge

Cindy Zimmerman

Seven biofuel organizations filed a brief Tuesday in a case by the American Petroleum Institute challenging the 2012 cellulosic and advanced biofuel requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The groups include the Advanced Biofuels Association, the Advanced Ethanol Council, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, the National Biodiesel Board, and the Renewable Fuels Association.

The intervenor’s brief defends the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to set cellulosic and advance biofuels targets that are based on market data and seek to spur development, as consistent with the RFS as passed by Congress.

In the brief, the groups argued that “[f]or the 2012 cellulosic biofuel requirement, EPA reasonably based its analysis on EIA’s projection, but then took into account more specific information it had from individual facilities. Precedent makes clear that EPA can adopt standards calculated to spur development, consistent with Congress’s express statutory objectives.” Ultimately it is EPA who “is charged with judging credibility and weighing the record evidence.”

Likewise, the brief supports EPA’s determination to retain the overall advanced biofuels mandate as “well within its discretion. Nothing in the statute requires EPA to make specific ‘numerical projections’ for each advanced biofuel before deciding to maintain the congressionally-mandated overall volume” as API argues.

The case will be heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. No oral arguments have been scheduled.

ACE, advance biofuels, AEC, BIO, Biodiesel, Ethanol, Ethanol News, Growth Energy, NBB, RFA

NCGA Officer Says They Respect RFS Waiver Process

Cindy Zimmerman

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) continues to support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and respects the process that allows for a waiver to be considered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That according to NCGA First Vice President Pam Johnson of Floyd, Iowa who talked about the issue during an interview last week at the 2012 Farm Progress Show.

“If the EPA with their due diligence finds that the RFS has caused severe economic harm, then a partial, temporary waiver is in order,” Johnson said, but otherwise, a waiver should not be granted. “Let’s take a big picture, long-term view, and figure out what’s best for our farmers and for our country.”

Due to the uncertainty of this year’s crop, NCGA has already requested an additional 30 days for comments regarding the waiver. “We think it’s a little too early to call this crop. I can’t even really tell what it’s like on my own farm,” Pam said. “We know what this crop is not, we don’t know what this crop is.”

Like many Midwestern farmers, the Johnson’s have watched their crop suffer through a hot and dry summer. “We’ve got some corn that doesn’t have an ear on it, some that might not be so bad, but just guessing I’d say we’re maybe going to have 60% of a crop that we normally have,” she said, adding that the soybeans might fair a little better with some recent rain and cooler temperatures, but the bottom line is that they really don’t know yet.

Listen to my interview with Pam Johnson here: NCGA 1st VP Pam Johnson

Audio, corn, Ethanol, Ethanol News, NCGA, RFS

Syngenta Corn Trait Offers Ethanol Efficiency

Cindy Zimmerman

A new corn trait from Syngenta can offer increased efficiency for ethanol plants and premiums for farmers who grow it.

Enogen corn
was specifically developed for ethanol production and just fully approved by USDA in February 2011. According to David Witherspoon with Syngenta, Enogen contains alpha amylase, one of the primary enzymes used in ethanol production. “So when this corn goes to an ethanol plant, their enzymes are delivered in the corn,” he said during an interview at the 2012 Farm Progress Show.

“It helps them increase alcohol production and because it works on a broad pH and temperature range, they don’t have to use as much ammonia, or sulfuric acid or heat,” Witherspoon said. “So they get more alcohol and use less energy.”

It took about 15 years for Syngenta to get Enogen to market and this is the first year the corn trait has been grown commercially. “We have two ethanol plants signed as customers,” said Witherspoon. “We have also tested in one other plant we anticipate will sign in the next 2-3 weeks.”

The plants contract with farmers to grow the Enogen corn. “We will work to facilitate the contract and put a full time person in the field to make sure they understand the hybrids and how the contracts work,” said Witherspoon.

Mike Missman of Woden, Iowa is a seed dealer and a farmer who planted Enogen corn this year, following the program regarding the use of the seed. “The stewardship rules are strict but they’re easy to follow,” said Missman. “You just don’t want that seed to go into another field.” Missman is contracting this year with Syngenta for a trial with a local ethanol plant.

One of the plants testing Enogen is Golden Grain Energy of Mason City, Iowa and Witherspoon says they toured that plant with the Syngenta global corn team during Farm Progress Show last week. “We really want the global group to understand the importance of the RFS to farmers, it actually has an international effect,” he said. “Ethanol has actually driven profitability worldwide in corn in places where it’s not been profitable.”

Listen to my interview with Witherspoon and Missman from Farm Progress Show to learn more about Enogen: Syngenta Enogen Corn interview

Audio, corn, Ethanol, Ethanol News, Farming

Book Review – Eaarth

Joanna Schroeder

What is happening to the “Eaarth”? A question many are asking, including author Bill McKibben, as the summer brought us the worst drought in decades along with extreme heat. Many people would blame this on global climate change while others would argue that “global warming” and “weather” are actually two separate things. Well it is time we delve back into the discussion I began earlier this summer as part of my 2012 La Nina Reading List.

McKibben is a true believer in climate change, holds humans responsible and writes we’re dealing with a “spooky, erratic climate”. He writes that global warming is no longer a philosophical threat or a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It is reality. Because we no longer live on the same planet, argues McKibben, earth needs a new name: Eaarth.

The focus of his book is to turn back time, per se, to safe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The “safe” level according to climatologist James Hansen, is 350 parts per million – a number we have surpassed and now hover around 390 parts per million. Throughout the book, Hansen explains why lowering levels of CO2 “will be extremely hard” but offers ways “we can try”.

Why do we need to do this? Because, argues McKibben, “…the earth has changed in profound ways, ways have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived. We’re every day less the oasis and more the desert. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has- even if we don’t quite know it yet.”

One of the main issues he focuses on in the book is the need to replace the fossil fuel system. Other issues include the need to fix infrastructure and he posits that climate change will cause more resource wars and leave billions of people “climate change refugees”.

The book concludes with a discussion about ways to reduce impact with the main theme being things need to get smaller and less centralized. He also writes that we need to focus on maintenance not growth. In addition, McKibben writes we need global governments to have the courage to take a stand against climate change.

For those who are passionate about the environment, you know that McKibben is one of the best-known writers in the field. His latest book doesn’t disappoint – it is an interesting read. Yet he barely scratched the surface on outlining what needs to be done to live on the new Eaarth. Might that be the topic is his next book that he could call Eaarth 2.0?

book reviews, Carbon Dioxide, Environment, global warming

Getting to Know POET’s New CEO

Joanna Schroeder

During the Farm Progress Show, Cindy Zimmerman had the opportunity to sit down with new POET Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jeff Lautt. Although he has been with the company for nearly eight years, he took the helm as president two years ago and several months ago was tapped as CEO.

Lautt has taken over in a tough year for the ethanol industry as it deals with a major drought that has affected the U.S. corn crop. The main feedstock for all POET ethanol plants is corn. Lautt said the plants are doing well but they are feeling the same pains as other ethanol producers. However, he said, the bigger problem for them is not the high corn prices but access to the market. The industry is currently capped at 10 percent of the fuel market and they are working hard to get equal access in the marketplace. A first step toward this is E15 and the first two stations selling E15 in the country are located in Kansas.

Similar to others in the ethanol industry, Lautt said his company is not in favor of a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). He said that the legislation is working, the market is working, and knew-jerk decisions shouldn’t be made during a drought. Lautt noted that the RFS includes advanced biofuels, biodiesel and cellulosic fuels and implementing a waiver would not just hurt corn-based ethanol but all biofuels. He added that the industry doesn’t need a government solution.

Lautt also gave an update on Project Liberty, the company’s project to commercialize cellulosic ethanol using corn stover. One of the things they are learning right now is how to harvest the stover as well as store the stover, which may vary based on the environmental state of stover (i.e. wet, dry, etc.).

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Jeff Lautt where he also discusses some new technologies in the pipeline: Getting to Know POET's new CEO

2012 Farm Progress Show Photo Album

Audio, biofuels, Ethanol, Farm Progress Show, POET

Tom Slunecka Joins Minnesota Soybean Growers

Joanna Schroeder

Tom Slunecka has been named the new executive director for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) and Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council. Prior to taking the helm of the soybean team on August 27, 2012, Slunecka was the vice president of marketing for PhibroChem where he focused on ethanol and animal agriculture. He also served as the executive director of the organization Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC).

“I am very happy to have the opportunity to work with these strong groups and look forward to the challenges and opportunities that agriculture will be faced with in the coming years,” said Slunecka, a long-time member of the biofuels and agricultural industry. “I am excited to help execute current and future research projects to bring new opportunities to Minnesota producers’ farm gate. Equally important is to continue to work with the strong leaders developing and implementing farm policies necessary to support soybean farmers’ profitability. I appreciate the opportunity to play a part in fulfilling the visions set forth by Minnesota Soybean.”

Slunecka is moving to Minnesota from Omaha and is a native of South Dakota. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Agriculture from South Dakota State University in Brookings and will bring his vast experience to the soybean industry.

“We are very happy to add a leader of the quality that Tom provides,” said MSGA President and Dodge County farmer Bruce Schmoll. “He is visionary and will help establish and achieve goals that will benefit soybean growers across Minnesota.”

Biodiesel, biofuels, Company Announcement, Soybeans

Thanks a Million Ohio

Joanna Schroeder

Ohioans who sign up to secure a low electric generation price for four to seven years have a chance to reduce their energy bills with FirstEnergy SolutionsThanks a Million giveaway. Eight residential winners will each receive $25,000 and $50,000 will also go to the winner’s corresponding local school district to use for an under-funded program, supplies or however they need to use the money as long as it is for the betterment of the school. In addition, eight Ohio businesses will each win $50,000.

The contest runs through October 31, 2012 and to be eligible, a resident or business must enroll in an electric generation offer that would freeze the per kilowatt-hour (kWh) price at 6.99 cents on electric generation until 2019, or 6.49 cents per kWh until 2016. This would fix electric prices for four or seven years, helping businesses and residences budget their energy costs for the future and not have their budgets negatively impacted if electricity prices go up.

“As an Ohio-based company, FirstEnergy Solutions is committed to helping Ohio’s residents and businesses through this sluggish economy, which is why we created our Thanks a Million giveaway,” said Donald Schneider, President of FirstEnergy Solutions. “It’s a good boost to our economy and it directly benefits eight Ohio school districts with much-needed funding.”

Schneider said that today the country is seeing historically low prices in the energy market but they are not sustainable. There are signs pointing to increased costs including environmental compliance and plant retirements that will raise energy prices. By locking in electricity prices, concluded Schneider, customers could potentially see considerable saving over the long term.

Electricity, Energy

South African Mine Goes Off-Grid with Solar

Joanna Schroeder

JinkoSolar is partnering with Solea Renewables to deliver a Limpopo province chrome mine in South Africa the first off-grid utility scale photovoltaic system in the country. When completed, the 1 megawatt plant will produce an estimated 1.8 gigawatts of electricity per year and be comprised of 4,179 polycrystalline PV panels supplied by JinkoSolar. It will also reduce the mine’s daytime diesel generator use. This is part of an effort in South Africa for the country to increase the use of renewable energy as well as increase power supplies from independent producers.

“While the global demand for South African coal, platinum, palladium and chromium increases, mines and other industrial consumers face power supply constraints due to capacity challenges at Eskom. The turnkey delivery of our PV plants will not only benefit end-users, but it will in turn help reduce the ever present and increasing energy demand Eskom faces,” said Vusi Mhlanzi, Director of Solea Renewables. “We chose JinkoSolar panels for its superior performance and reliability, as seen in utility-scale installations across Asia, Europe, and Americas.”

The off-grid PV solar system is expected to be completed by late October 2012. According to Mhlanzi, the system will be a good example of how solar energy can create a “long-term hedge against all rising costs of power.”

Kangping Chen, CEO of JinkoSolar added, “We have great expectations for South Africa. The region’s booming population, strong economic growth and abundant sunlight represent an exciting opportunity for solar and for JinkoSolar. We look forward to working with Solea Renewables, an experienced EPC partner on this momentous project.”

Electricity, Energy, Solar

IRFA Renews Safety Alliance

Joanna Schroeder

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) has renewed its safety alliance with the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Iowa OSHA) for two years. The partnership is designed for the two organizations, through IRFA’s Safety Task Force, to explore best management practices and improve the recognition and control of workplace hazards in ethanol and biodiesel plants throughout Iowa.

“The safety alliance between IRFA and Iowa OSHA since 2009 has been mutually beneficial, and IRFA is proud to continue this working partnership for another two years,” said IRFA Biofuels Manager Grant Menke. “The regular meetings have fostered important dialogue and improved understanding between both organizations as well as fellow renewable fuels producers.

Menke continued, “While the Iowa renewable fuels industry remains proud of its safety and compliance record, we continue to strive for improvement. This safety alliance, which is open to every Iowa biodiesel and ethanol production facility, is one of the best tools we have to continue learning, communicating and getting better.”

Micheal Mauro, Iowa’s Labor Commissioner congratulated IRFA for its leadership and dedication to safety in the renewable fuels industry. “Iowa Renewable Fuels Association has made a conscious decision to make protecting workers a priority in the workplace. Their continued commitment for workers’ safety and health is a testament for other companies to follow.”

Biodiesel, biofuels, Ethanol, Iowa RFA