Greener, on our own Accord

FROM THE JULY ISSUE: Time will tell how President Trump’s exit from the Paris Climate Accord will affect the U.S. ethanol industry, which is banking on foreign demand for its low-carbon, high-octane fuel to grow.
By Tom Bryan | June 22, 2017

Time will tell how President Trump’s exit from the Paris Climate Accord will affect the U.S. ethanol industry, which is banking on foreign demand for its low-carbon, high-octane fuel to grow. At press time, rumors circulated that the European Union might impose sanctions on American biomass—shipped to Europe for power—to penalize the U.S. for abandoning the alliance. No such threats have been made about ethanol, but leaving Paris via an anti-globalization dustup probably won’t help us sell more ethanol abroad.

Then again, maybe it won’t hurt, because Europe and China already treat our ethanol unfairly. They restrict imports with tariffs and questionable sustainability rules. Other countries are following suit with similar hoops, but as Luke Geiver reports in “Sustainable Certification for the Ethanol Process,” it won’t stop us. Nearly two dozen U.S. ethanol plants have pursued certifications that allow them to sell ethanol into environmentally persnickety markets around the world. Expect more to do the same.

Sustainability certification often starts with feedstock verification, and there’s no question that not all crops are grown the same. As Ann Bailey reports in “Meeting Needs, Maximizing Benefits,” on page 28, many corn farmers are embracing a variety of sustainable agriculture production practices, including strip farming, planting cover crops and improving soil health, to reduce their environmental footprints. The exciting part is that farmers are doing this voluntarily, and mostly because it makes economic sense. Coincidentally, the economics of going green will also determine the viability of an idea to equip ethanol plants with solar panels, a concept explained by Patrick Miller in “Charged Up." 

The continuous improvement of ethanol plant efficiencies has been one of the great unsung stories in transportation fuels history, and its latest chapter is now unfolding. As Susanne Retka Schill reports in “Process Checkups,” many U.S. ethanol plants are in the early stages of second-generation debottlenecking and optimization, building on what they accomplished over the past decade. Their earlier work focused on low-hanging fruit—upgrades, tweaks and add-ons—that pushed plants beyond nameplate capacity. Now, producers are engaging with process engineers and vendors on more capital-intensive upgrades, not just for added gallons, but greater efficiency and diversification.  

Finally, in “Outfoxing Dehydration,” we learn how an ethanol plant in central Iowa is eliminating its molecular sieve regeneration cycles amidst a plant overhaul and major expansion. The story, by Tim Portz, explains how Pine Lake Corn Processors has worked with Whitefox Technologies to incorporate this promising new technology, which should yield more ethanol, more efficiently.
 

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief
tbryan@bbiinternational.com