Measured Change

FROM THE OCTOBER ISSUE: Editor in Chief Tom Bryan previews the magazine, including feature articles about healthy investment risk, funding options, lab innovations, biotechnology advancements, the next generation of ethanol enthusiasts and more.
By Tom Bryan | September 21, 2017

Our industry’s growth narrative is rich with stories of expansion and diversification, usually occurring in waves between tides of high and low margins and available cash reserves. In this month’s cover story, “It’s All in the Risk,” on page 18, Managing Editor Lisa Gibson reports on the industry’s recent cautiousness of technology investment risk, particularly when the paybacks are longer-term.  We learn how prudent investment decisions should be made with external and internal factors in mind, while considering a project’s long-term impact on the facility, its personnel and its stakeholders.

Our coverage of capital projects continues with “Evaluating Options,” on page 24. In this story, Keith Loria reports that ample funding opportunities exist for producers looking to finance projects. It’s simply a matter of finding resources that fit the bill. While paying for smaller projects with cash is not uncommon, plants with low or no debt may opt to take some on to finance a major construction project. The cost and duration of a technology installation matters, too, as fast-build, quick-payback projects are more likely to get done without lenders. Incentivized loans and grants are good options for projects with longer ROIs, while capital and equity funding sometimes make sense for plant expansions. The story also explains how to raise project capital through the federal EB-5 program, which allows foreign investors to back projects in exchange for green cards.

On page 32, we turn from capital to calibration in “Innovation in the Lab,” by Susanne Retka Schill. In this story, Schill explains how the high-performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) is playing a much bigger role in plant operations than it used to. Using HPLCs to calibrate operations — daily or biweekly — is now an industry best practice, as producers strive for higher rates of production consistency and accuracy. While other process monitoring technologies exist, perhaps even superior ones, the versatility and functionality of HPLC machines have made them ubiquitous in ethanol plant labs. Now, plants are pushing HPLC utilization to new heights, tweaking methods, experimenting with testing parameters and generally asking the equipment to do more.

While an HPLC monitors fermentations, yeast make them happen. In “Engineering and Evolution,” on page 38, Gibson reports that, until recently, yeast innovations had been infrequent. Now, however, with arrival of genetic engineering, cell mating and natural evolution, yeast science has come alive with new strains, new methods and new players.

Finally, be sure to check out our page-42 story about efforts to get young people interested in ethanol. “The ‘Cool’ Fuel,” by Ann Bailey, reminds us that today’s students, scholarship winners and interns are tomorrow’s industry leaders.  

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief