Ethanol industry to recognize outstanding contributors at FEW

By Kris Bevill, Holly Jessen | June 22, 2011

Once a year, members of the ethanol industry take time during the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo to honor two individuals whose contributions have positively impacted the industry. This year, accolades will be given to a scientist who has devoted his entire career to researching and advancing sustainable biofuels and to a long-time agriculture representative without whom the ethanol industry might not be what it is today.

Bruce Dale

Bruce Dale, professor of chemical engineering and associate director of the office of biobased technologies at Michigan State University, will receive the Award of Excellence for his extensive research in the areas of, among other things, indirect land use change (ILUC) and the production of cellulosic ethanol. Over the course of his career, Dale has authored more than 100 referred journal papers and often finds himself on the witness stand at various policy hearings defending the environmental effects of ethanol production. Earlier this year, he co-authored an analysis of ILUC which found no correlation between U.S. biofuel production and land use change in other countries.

As the leader of the U.S. DOE’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center activities at MSU, Dale devotes much of his research time to the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol. He is the inventor of a cellulosic ethanol pre-treatment process known as AFEX which recently received U.S. DOE funding to be scaled up out of the laboratory, where it has displayed very promising results for effective cellulosic ethanol production.

Dale said he is extremely honored to receive recognition from the ethanol industry for his research because he recognizes the hard work on the part of many industry members to provide a domestic source of renewable fuel. “I’m trying to do the same in my own way,” he said. “To have the award coming from people who are actually there ‘walking the walk’ is very gratifying to me.”

The Renewable Fuels Association said Dale provides “a much-needed dose of sanity and maturity” to discussions of ethanol’s role in the American transportation fuel sector and commended his efforts to advance the industry. “His expertise and willingness to engage critics of biofuels when their arguments lack sound scientific standing has been invaluable in forcing fact-based conversations about American ethanol production,” the group stated. “Dr. Dale is well deserving of this award and the Renewable Fuels Association applauds him and thanks him for his ongoing contribution to this industry.”

Dale was first influenced to explore sustainable sources of energy when he witnessed first-hand the downside of the fossil fuel boom-and-bust cycle as a child growing up in a dying mining town in Nevada. He plans to devote his entire career to the research and development of sustainable biofuels. Now a proud grandparent, he believes the choices made now regarding the future of energy will influence his grandchildren’s generation and is optimistic that their generation will be pleased with the outcome. “We’re going to have fossil fuels around us for a long time, be we can’t go on pretending that they’re going to be around forever and that they don’t have the problems they have,” he said. “We’ve got to get engaged in this transition to sustainability. We just can’t keep living on the earth’s natural resources without putting anything back. I think my kids and grandkids are going to judge me on how well I did there, and how well we all did.”

Rick Tolman

The second honor, the High Octane Award, will go to Rick Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. Tolman earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics, with an emphasis in agribusiness management, from Brigham Young University, followed by a master’s degree the same subject, with an emphasis in quantitative methods. His career path has taken some twists and turns, but all of it has been squarely in the arena of agriculture. After working in marketing for a couple of farm equipment companies, Tolman worked for the U.S. Grains Council for 18 years, eventually supervising USGC’s international trade promotion program. That’s where he learned a lot about grain production and marketing, he said, especially within the corn industry. That experience was invaluable when he became CEO of NCGA, a position he has held for the last 11 years.

Tolman was surprised and honored that he received the award. He then gave credit to NCGA’s staff and leaders at the state and national level for putting “their heart and soul into ethanol promotion.” Tolman is privileged to represent the corn growers, he said, but the award is really for all of NCGA, not just him. “I think this honor is really a tribute to them for all their hard work.” The ethanol industry means so much to U.S. corn growers, he said, but that’s not where the benefits end. The success of the industry is about positively impacting national security, energy security and a more abundant, cheaper and hopefully reliable supply of energy. As two added benefits the fuel is cleaner and more environmentally friendly and has a positives impact on the U.S. economy and jobs, particularly jobs in rural America. “Obviously, ethanol’s not perfect, but all those things together are just huge, huge positives,” he said. “That’s what motives me to be an advocate.”

Tolman also talked about the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective. The ethanol industry has historically gone through up and down cycles, he pointed out. “Even though it looks like there are a lot of critics and some challenges right now, I think we have to keep a long-term perspective,” he said. “We’ll get back to another growth cycle and things will change, as they always do. This too shall pass. Those strong fundamentals will win out.”

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, was pleased with Tolman’s selection. “Rick is a passionate advocate for America’s corn growers,” he said. “We’ve all benefited from his zeal and his spirited leadership in developing the nation’s ethanol industry. I count Rick as a friend, as well as a peer, and believe his work on behalf of ethanol sets a standard for all future recipients of the High Octane Award.”