Essential Energy

'Essential Energy,' the theme of the upcoming National Ethanol Conference, is inspired by the inclusion of U.S. biofuel producers on the Department of Homeland Security's list of critical and essential industries during the onset of the pandemic.
By Geoff Cooper | January 13, 2021

As states across the country began implementing COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions in March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security issued a list of industries and business sectors that should remain open during the pandemic because they perform functions that are critical and essential to our economy. 

It was no surprise to us that our nation’s ethanol producers were included on this list at the beginning of the pandemic. That’s because ethanol sits at the juncture of the energy and agriculture sectors, providing not just fuel and feed, but also other key products like COVID-killing hand sanitizer, carbon dioxide to preserve meat and fresh foods, and dry ice to ship vaccines.

That is why the theme for February’s National Ethanol Conference and the 2021 Ethanol Industry Outlook is simply, but powerfully, “Essential Energy.” 

Ethanol is essential to the economy—especially rural America, supporting thousands of jobs well beyond those in the ethanol plants themselves. In 2019, there were nearly 70,000 jobs directly associated with ethanol production and another 280,000 jobs otherwise tied to it. The industry created more than $23 billion in household income and added $43 billion to the national Gross Domestic Product. We’ll report on the industry’s 2020 economic impacts at the NEC.

As much as U.S. oil production has grown in the last decade, ethanol also remains essential to energy security. The U.S. remains a significant net importer of crude oil; more than one-third of total U.S. crude oil supplies came from foreign sources in 2020, as did over 40 percent of the oil processed by refineries. If not for the role of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply, our country would have had to import nearly 500 million additional barrels of crude oil in 2020. 

Finally, ethanol is essential to the environment, offering a low-carbon solution that can drive us well into a “net-zero” future. With state and regional low-carbon fuel standards in development, we’re bullish on the future, especially if we can secure passage of the Next Generation Fuels Act or related federal legislation to enact a national high-octane, low-carbon fuel standard that’s truly fuel and feedstock-neutral.

The 26th annual National Ethanol Conference, to be held Feb. 16-18 in an entirely digital format, will allow us to bring together more people than ever before, with a program format that’s easy to navigate and spread out over three days. Participants will hear from leaders across the ethanol, energy, automotive and agriculture sectors about what makes the future so promising for renewable fuels today, and tomorrow.

As RFA celebrates its 40th year in operation, this year’s NEC will hold special meaning for our organization. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led us to adopt a fully digital format, we are confident the NEC will continue to serve as the largest and most visionary ethanol policy and marketing event for industry leaders and stakeholders.

This is a critical time for our nation’s ethanol industry, which faces a changing political landscape, regulatory challenges, and uncertainty in the marketplace. But it is also a time of incredible opportunity for low-carbon renewable fuels, and NEC will serve as an excellent forum for exploring the strategies and approaches that will facilitate continued success for our essential industry in the future.

With the arrival of a new administration and a new interest in cutting carbon, never have objectives been so aligned to develop and promote renewable liquid fuels that will keep the American economy on the road to success. Ethanol can do this in a way that stresses its strong benefits in a world so concerned about reducing carbon emissions and toxic air pollutants, while at the same time offering coproducts that have such an important role to play in fighting this pandemic.

In short, ethanol is essential energy for everyone. It’s keeping America on the road while helping address immediate needs during the pandemic. And in the long term, ethanol will lead the drive into a future of low-carbon renewable fuels. 

Author: Geoff Cooper
President and CEO
Renewable Fuels Association