Stories of Resilience

A publisher's message from the January issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine, featuring stories on high-protein feed production, 2021 export opportunities, and examples of how U.S. ethanol producers are keeping their personnel safe and supported.
By Tom Bryan | November 29, 2020

DDGS has been our industry’s staple coproduct since the advent of the modern corn dry mill, and while it’s become a vastly improved and better marketed feed ingredient over time, it still carries the stigma of a commodity. It’s value today—about $140 per ton—is close to what it was 10 or 12 years ago. And while producers respect that steady income, they’re ready for something more.

The first new wave of coproduct evolution happened more than a decade ago when our industry adopted distillers corn oil (DCO) extraction. DCO technology gave ethanol plants a new product stream with a quick payback. All but a few plants bought in.

Today, a similar wave of change is forming with high-protein feed production, as dozens of U.S. producers are investing in 50% protein coproducts. In “Security of Scale,” on page 16, we revisit Fluid Quip Technologies’ Maximized Stillage Co-Products technology, now running in half a dozen facilities with three more installations on the way. The highest-profile adopter of MSC technology is perhaps Green Plains Inc., which has one installation online and two more under development. As the story explains, Green Plains—which is beginning to think of ethanol as a coproduct of protein production—envisions a very near-term future when 53%, 56% or 60% protein is selling for $500, $800 or, who knows, $1,000 per ton. So that’s not just a different product, but a whole new game.  

While ethanol’s high-protein revolution takes shape, the industry’s ongoing adoption of commercial alcohol production—a long-term play for some—has helped shore up demand for ethanol globally. In “Opportunity Around the Globe,” on page 22, we learn that U.S. ethanol exports are expected to reach 1.3 billion gallons this year, or nearly 90% of last year’s mark. Lisa Gibson reports that exports held steady through the downturn due, in part, to constant demand for industrial alcohol around the world. Canada, India and Mexico have been particularly good markets during the pandemic, while opportunities in Brazil tightened—thanks to a combination of its tariff rate quota and COVID-19—and China’s tariffs remained prohibitive.

With all the sanitizer our industry is producing for the world, it is with some irony that the 5,000-plus people working in our U.S. ethanol facilities remain at some risk of exposure to COVID-19. While there has not been widespread reports of plant personnel being stricken with the virus, it can be assumed that most facilities have seen a case or two. In “Safe and Connected,” on page 26, we report on how producers are not only looking out for their employees’ physical health right now, but also their emotional wellbeing. So, in addition to the numerous safety measures plants have taken during the pandemic, they are also trying to keep morale high with virtual gatherings and open communication. Nothing about this new reality is easy for ethanol plant personnel, but they’re staying connected, working smart and getting through it together.