EPA officials observe innovation, ingenuity at EKAE plant

By Renewable Fuels Association | June 25, 2015

Renewable Fuels Association member company East Kansas Agri-Energy recently hosted key officials from the U.S. EPA at its facility in Garnett, Kansas, 70 miles southwest of Kansas City.

 EPA personnel toured the 45 million gallon per year corn ethanol plant, examined progress on EKAE’s co-located renewable diesel project, and discussed the importance of ethanol and the renewable fuel standard (RFS) with plant management and local investors. EPA is holding a public hearing Thursday in Kansas City on its recent proposal for 2014–2016 RFS requirements.

 “Today’s event provided an excellent opportunity for key EPA officials to see firsthand the ethanol industry’s innovation and ingenuity,” said Jeff Oestmann, CEO of EKAE. “We were honored to host EPA, and we thank them for spending a few hours with us to learn more about the ethanol process, renewable diesel, and the importance of the biofuels industry to the Garnett community. We had a very productive discussion and hope they left here with a new appreciation for both the challenges and opportunities facing ethanol producers today.”

 EKAE, which was founded by local farmers and business leaders, produced its first gallon of ethanol one month before the original RFS was adopted in 2005. In 2014, the company broke ground on a bolt-on renewable diesel facility, which will convert the corn distillers oil already produced at the plant into low-carbon advanced biofuel.

 “The original goal of East Kansas Agri-Energy was to add value to our crops and provide a badly-needed economic boost to local farmers,” said EKAE Chairman Bill Pracht, a farmer and rancher from Westphalia, Kansas. “But over the past 10 years, EKAE has done so much more than that. The plant has been a major employer and economic engine for Anderson County, and the jobs and income we’ve created at EKAE have really rippled through the entire area.”

 RFA Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper, who also attended the tour, said EKAE is proof positive that the RFS is working. “EKAE is an excellent example of how the RFS provided the stability needed for first-generation biofuels like corn ethanol to succeed and flourish, then delivered the investment certainty required to develop second-generation biofuels like renewable diesel from corn distillers oil,” he said.

EPA also hand-delivered a letter to EKAE approving the company’s efficient producer pathway petition, which certifies that the company’s ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 27.2 percent compared to petroleum.

“We appreciate EPA bringing the letter, which demonstrates EKAE is producing some of the lowest-carbon corn ethanol in the country,” said Doug Sommer, vice president of operations. “The letter also allows EKAE to generate RINs for gallons above our grandfathered capacity.”

 Oestmann, other EKAE employees, and local EKAE investors will be testifying Thursday at EPA’s hearing in Kansas City. More than 250 stakeholders are registered to testify. “We are greatly concerned that backtracking on the RFS, as EPA is proposing to do, will undermine and stifle further innovations and investments in the biofuels sector,” Oestmann said. “Our investment in the renewable diesel facility simply would not have been possible if not for the success of our corn ethanol facility under the RFS. It is our hope that EPA’s visit to our facility and the community of Garnett will help the agency understand the far-reaching impacts of its decisions on RFS implementation.”