E85 Sales Set Iowa Record in 2011

E85 sales in Iowa reached an all-time high in 2011 exceeding more than 10.7 million gallons, representing a 15 percent increase over 2010 sales, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue. The increase occurred despite third and fourth quarter sales being down compared to the year prior.
Iowa RFA

“E85 sales are up while overall gasoline sales are down – that shows progress,” said Monte Shaw, Executive Director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. “Price is still an important factor. With ethanol prices closer to gasoline in the last half of 2011, we saw our growth streak curtailed somewhat. But today, wholesale ethanol prices are quite attractive and that translates into very enticing E85 prices. E85 is the best way for fuel consumers to boost the Iowa economy, reduce dependence on foreign oil and still save a few bucks.”

Iowa currently has 167 retail outlets offering E85. Check online for a list of all E85 stations. Iowa has 41 ethanol refineries capable of producing nearly 3.7 billion gallons annually. In addition, Iowa has 13 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce 320 million gallons annually.

RFS Very Important To Agriculture

Our latest ZimmPoll asked the question, “Is maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard more important to agriculture than the farm bill?” The statement was made during a recent meeting I attended that the Renewable Fuel Standard was more important to agriculture than the Farm Bill. In a show of how important it is 38% each of respondents said Yes and Both are important. Only 24% said No. What do you think? Many people seem to think the RFS only benefits corn/soybean growers but they don’t take into account that all farmers receive benefit from lower fuel costs just like the general public.

Our new ZimmPoll is now live and asks the question, “Is “Organic” food healthier than “Conventional” food?” During last night’s AgChat this topic received a fair amount of discussion. Even though there is a USDA Certified Organic program it appears that the term is not widely understood. I haven’t seen any evidence that the public in general really cares that much either and I’m sure that most would not want to pay more for food that has to conform to the certified standards. What do you think? Take our poll and/or comment. Thanks.

ZimmPoll is sponsored by Rhea+Kaiser, a full-service advertising/public relations agency.

Senate Defeats Renewable Incentives Amendments

As work on the Transportation Bill progressed in the Senate Tuesday, two amendments that would have extended tax incentives for renewable energy sources were defeated.

An amendment offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) failed on a tie vote of 49-49, since 60 votes were needed for passage. The amendment would have extended a variety of incentives, including the Cellulosic Biofuels Producer Tax Credit (PTC) the Accelerated Depreciation Allowance for Cellulosic Biofuel Plant Property, and the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Tax Credit available to blender pumps and other ethanol fueling infrastructure, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind and grants in lieu of tax credits to eligible solar projects, all of which are due to expire at the end of this year.

“Unfortunately the Senate missed an opportunity to put to bed the pressing need to extend expiring tax incentives for cellulosic biofuels and other sources of domestically produced clean energy,” said Advanced Ethanol Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman. “Echoing the 49 U.S. Senators who voted for the Stabenow amendment today, we cannot afford to miss any more opportunities to get this done.”

The measure would have also extended the $1 per gallon biodiesel tax incentive, which expired at the end of last year, through the end of this year. Another amendment offered by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) that would have extended the biodiesel tax credit was also defeated. “We thank Sen. Stabenow and Sen. Roberts for including biodiesel in their amendments, and we urge Congress to break this partisan gridlock and find a way to enact policies like the biodiesel tax credit that have strong bipartisan support,” said Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs for the National Biodiesel Board.

While the extension amendments failed to pass, an amendment to repeal most of the same tax incentives by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) was also defeated in the Senate. DeMint’s amendment would have repealed tax credits for the wind, plug-in vehicles, and renewable fuels, but would have also addressed some taxes for fossil fuels. It failed by a much more resounding vote of 72-26.

Field Trial Planned for PowerCane Miscanthus

Mendel Biotechnology, Inc. and BP Biofuels will be conducting demonstration field trials of a newly developed energy specific variety of miscanthus.

The two companies have signed a four-year agreement to test Mendel’s PowerCane™ Miscanthus and evaluate its performance as feedstock for biofuel production at BP Biofuels’ demonstration plant at Jennings, Louisiana. A total of 100 acres of PowerCane™ Miscanthus will be planted in early 2012 near BP’s Jennings facility and the first biomass harvest from these fields is expected in 2013.

“PowerCane™ Miscanthus varieties are the first miscanthus products specifically developed for biomass production that can be planted as a seed,” said Mendel Bioenergy Seeds president Don Panter. “The PowerCane™ Miscanthus system will be significantly more economical and efficient for growers, and will allow the industry to scale up more quickly to meet renewable energy goals.”

According to the company, PowerCane™ Miscanthus represents a new chapter in biomass production. While the current publicly available miscanthus varieties have outstanding agronomic and biomass performance characteristics, they must be planted as a rhizome or live plug, which requires additional investment and equipment for growers.

BP Biofuels currently operates a biofuels demonstration facility in Jennings, La that is used to test new cellulosic technologies in the biofuels production process. BP is also constructing a 20,000 acre energy grass farm in Florida that will supply a 36 million gallon a year conversion facility. Construction on the facility is expected to begin later this year.

Update on DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol Iowa Plant

DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) is hoping to start construction on a 27.5 million gallon cellulosic plant later this year, according to DDCE Global Business Director Steve Mirshak.

At a recent Pioneer Hi-Bred media event, Mirshak talked about DDCE’s purchase last year of land in Nevada, Iowa, adjacent to the Lincolnway Energy conventional ethanol plant. “We have some very positive synergies with Lincolnway,” Mirshak said. “We’re looking at utility sharing and also rail siting sharing. They’re a great neighbor and it’s been a great relationsip.”

Mirshak says the feedstock for the plant will be corn stover and they have already been working with growers in the region on harvesting that product from their fields. “In 2011, we worked with about 50 growers within a 30 mile radius of the Nevada plant,” he said. “We harvested about 7500 acres. Our goal is to collect about two tons of stover per acre.” The stover will be baled in large rectangular bales and stored in various sites to be fed to the plant as needed.

He expects corn growers will find that this market and use of stover will fit nicely into their residue management program. “We see it as a win-win situation,” Mirshak added. “We’re going to generate more ethanol in America’s quest for energy independence, help develop the rural economy, as well as help farmers improve their yields and grow more food.”

DDCE anticipates the need for about 320 cellulosic ethanol plants by 2022 to meet the federal mandate. “The most important issue is the stability of the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate. That is driving the massive investment in technical research into cellulosic ethanol and the future investment in building new plants,” Milshak said. “So our number one priority is to maintain the RFS.”

He adds that the cellulosic producer tax credit is also important as companies invest in the first plants and learn to operate more efficiently.

You can listen to an interview with Steve Mirshak here:Interview with Steve Mirshak

Solar Use “Heats Up” in Colder Climates

Solar energy, specifically solar thermal water heating (SWH), is catching on in colder states like Wisconsin, Colorado and Oregon as well as countries like Canada and Germany.

“Many people assume that SWH is not an option for them because they do not live near a scorching desert or by a sun-drenched beach,” said Nigel Cotton, OEM Team Leader of the International Copper Association (ICA) and founder of Solarthermalworld.org, a web community for solar thermal professionals. “However, in a solar thermal system, the energy of the sun is used to heat water in a ‘holding tank.’ This warmed water is circulated to provide hot water throughout the system.While SWH may not be able to provide for all hot water needs in colder climates, it can provide significant savings.”

Colorado home owners are finding cost savings with SWH. According to the Colorado based Center for Resource Conservation, a solar thermal heating system for domestic hot water use can be a long-term cost saving addition for a home. They estimate that when replacing an electric system, SWH can save a household $625 annually. This kind of long-term investment in solar thermal also can pay off for business operations.

A laundromat in Toronto, Canada installed a SWH system that is saving money on energy costs. According to the Canadian Solar Industries Association, the solar thermal system is expected to pay back its investment in less than ten years if energy prices remain stable, but will achieve faster payback as energy prices rise.

“Solar thermal technology is able to capture the energy of the sun and transfer it into heat in many regions around the globe,” says Baerbel Epp, editor of the Solarthermalworld.org newsletter. “It is helpful for families and businesses to explore the different ways of using the free-of-charge energy from the sun no matter where they live.”

American Ethanol No. 3 Chevy Debuts in Vegas

The American Ethanol No. 3 Chevy made its debut over the weekend at the Las Vegas Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300 with rookie driver Austin Dillon finishing strong in 7th place.

Representatives of American Ethanol partners, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and Growth Energy, were in town for the March 10 race. Pictured here with RCR team owner (and Dillon’s grandfather) Richard Childress (left) are Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis next to Dillon and Illinois corn farmer Martin Barbre, chairman of NCGA’s NASCAR Advisory Committee on the right.

Barbre said with three races down in the Nationwide season, Dillon is already exceeding their expectations. “He ranks second in driver points in his rookie season and is proving to be a great spokesperson for the performance, economic and environmental benefits of Sunoco Green E15,” said Barbre. “Educating fans about the importance of NASCAR’s switch to a 15 percent blend of ethanol, from an environmental, performance and even patriotic standpoint, will reinforce the importance of the NASCAR Green message while helping the sports broad fan base become better acquainted with the benefits of the fuel produced by family farmers such as myself.”

Las Vegas was the first race this season where No. 3 Chevrolet sported the black and green colors of American Ethanol and marked Dillon’s first Nationwide Series start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Dillon was so excited about the ethanol theme that his team even tweeted a photo of his “new @AmericanEthanol helmet.”

As the son of former driver and RCR general manager Mike Dillon and grandson of Richard Childress, American Ethanol partners felt the 21-year-old’s performance in the Vegas race highlighted his developing talent and his dedication to clean-burning, domestically produced ethanol.

“We are thrilled to be working with Austin this year to make fans aware of the amazing performance ethanol offers,” said Barbre. “Our partnership with RCR brings together two great American legacies, that of the famed racing family and that of the American family farmer.”

Progress in Blueprint for Secure Energy Future

The White House today released a one-year progress report on the “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” the Administration’s all-of-the-above approach to American energy.

Among the highlights noted in the report is that the plan has resulted in a doubling of renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources since 2008. According to the report, “Since 2009, DOI has approved 29 onshore renewable energy projects—about 6,600 megawatts—including: 16 solar projects, 5 wind farms, and 8 geothermal facilities. These projects include the first solar projects ever permitted on public lands.”

In the area of developing advanced alternative fuels, the report notes that in 2010, “President Obama set a goal of breaking ground on at least four commercial scale cellulosic or advanced biorefineries by 2013. That goal has been accomplished, one year ahead of schedule. Together, these projects, and associated demonstration and pilot projectswill produce a combined total of nearly 100 million gallons per year of advanced biofuels capacity.”

In addition, EPA’s continued implementation of the National Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) has supported a growing domestic renewable fuels industry. Last year, industry reported production of approximately 14 billion gallons of renewable fuels, about 8% of total U.S. highway vehicle fuel. In fact, U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level, as average monthly production increased more than 40 percent between 2008 and 2011. EPA worked with stakeholders in evaluating new fuel technologies and feedstocks to support expanded opportunity for these fuels to be an important part of the domestic transportation fuel market. To help support deployment of advanced fuel infrastructure, in 2011, the Department of Agriculture provided over $4 million in grants to fund 265 flex fuel dispensers in 30 states.

The report also made note of progress in the development of aviation biofuels, more alternative fueled vehicles in the federal fleet and the launch of the National Clean Fleets Partnership, an initiative to help large, private sector companies improve the efficiency of their fleets and reduce the country’s dependence on oil.

Read the report here.

Hog Producers Can Compete with Ethanol for Corn

An agricultural economist says hog producers are now able to compete with ethanol producers for corn.

“This is an amazing difference from just five years ago,” said Purdue agricultural economist Dr. Chris Hurt. “The hog industry was largely set up with $2-2.50 corn going into 2006. After that we saw major increases in those corn prices.” Dr. Hurt spoke to swine veterinarians on the topic of “Global Feed Economics in a Biofuel World” during seminar in Denver on Friday.

Hog producers initially absorbed those higher costs by reducing margins, which meant big losses and ultimately resulted in reduced supplies. “You reduce the supply enough, you bring those hog prices up. That’s where we are today. Hog producers can pay $6-7 for corn with the prices they’re getting for hogs,” he said. “That up to $7 is higher than ethanol plants can pay for corn and still cover all their costs.”

Dr. Hurt is certain that the days of $2 corn are over, but he does expect prices to moderate around $5-5.50 a bushel. While he does believe that livestock producers have adjusted over the past five years to living in a “biofuel world,” he’s hesitant to say there is “equilibrium” between ethanol and livestock production. “Obviously, equilibrium is the ‘golden state’ where everybody is covering their costs but often times we’re in dis-equilibrium,” he said. “I think as we look back on this era, we’re going to say that ultimately the renewable fuels program was a very, very aggressive program. Had corn farmers had ten years to build that up, it would have caused a lot less trauma for other sectors, like our livestock sector.”

Listen to an interview with Dr. Hurt here: Dr. Chris Hurt

Project LIBERTY Groundbreaking Tuesday

POET–DSM Advanced Biofuels will be celebrating the start of construction Tuesday on Project LIBERTY, the planned commercial-scale ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

The joint venture between Dutch life sciences firm Royal DSM and ethanol giant POET announced the groundbreaking when the partnership was made public in January. “The joint venture anticipates that we’ll complete construction of Project LIBERTY and start producing cellulosic ethanol in the second half of 2013,” said POET CEO Jeff Broin. “Together, we’ll produce a home-grown, renewable fuel that can create jobs, clean our environment and make us less reliant on foreign oil. This partnership has the potential to change the world.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and representatives from POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels will take part in the formal groundbreaking for the plant starting at 10:30 Tuesday morning in Emmetsburg.