Ethanol's Fight for Fairness, Inclusion and Opportunity

Ethanol Producer Magazine Editor Tom Bryan reflects on the industry's current policy challenges and recaps the articles in the September issue, including a review of the 2021 FEW in Des Moines, Iowa, a report on coproducts revenue rising, and more.
By Tom Bryan | August 27, 2021

As I wrote this column in mid-August, I wondered how the challenges dropped on our industry this summer would be resolved. Less than a month earlier, at the 2,000-person International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in Des Moines, Iowa—our first in-person FEW in two years—Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper adeptly laid out the policy, regulatory and legal battles in front of us—the fairness fight we’ve been in for years—safeguarding year-round E15 and ending unwarranted SREs.

Three weeks later, as drought conditions persisted throughout much of the Midwest, the Biden administration overlaid a new set of worries on top of the court setbacks we already face. The administration unveiled a fresh national target for electric vehicles, calling for them to represent half of all new vehicle sales by 2030. Simultaneously, the EPA released a proposed rule to establish stricter light-duty vehicle GHG emissions standards without addressing ethanol or high octane—a real letdown. And on top of it all, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure package that did not have the biofuels inclusion our industry had pushed for.

Never a dull policy moment in ethanol. The work never stops, and we are fortunate to have not one association, but three fighting for ethanol’s fair inclusion in our nation’s clean energy future. The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the American Coalition for Ethanol are tightly aligned and resolute in their efforts to overcome our current challenges—on Capitol Hill, in court and at the pump. In “Together, Determined in Des Moines,” we recap July’s insightful FEW general session that included Cooper’s essential keynote speech and panel discussions with additional association leaders and ethanol plant executives. We have big and complicated hurdles in front of us as an industry, no doubt, but that morning at the FEW left us informed, unified and encouraged.   

Indeed, this industry always provides reason for optimism. When one thing goes down, another seems to go up. Such is coproduct revenue right now. While distillers grains prices have been dampened recently, overall revenue from coproducts (DDGS, distillers corn oil, etc.) makes up a larger percentage of plant income than ever before. As we report in “Coproducts Revenue Rising,” coproduct profitability went up notably in 2020, keeping the industry moving forward during the pandemic. That trend will likely continue. According to Christianson Benchmarking LLC, coproducts revenue, on average, made up 27% of overall plant income in the first quarter of 2021 after hitting an already impressive 26% in 2020. With growing markets for DCO, protein and carbon, coproducts’ slice of plant revenue should continue to grow.

Finally, we profile our 2021 FEW award winners: Kurt Rosentrater and Steve Markham, recipients of the Award of Excellence and High Octane Award, respectively. Both men have given decades of their careers to advancing and expanding markets for coproducts. And like so many past FEW awardees, both Rosentrater and Markham credit their successes to those around them and an industry that never stops providing new opportunities. 

Author: Tom Bryan
President and Editor