Ethanol Answer Man, DDGS researcher honored at 2012 FEW

By Holly Jessen | June 05, 2012

For the 12th year, two members of the ethanol industry were honored with awards at the 2012 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo.

Larry Johnson of LLJ Consulting and Business Development was on hand to accept the High Octane award June 5, which acknowledges individuals that have helped the ethanol industry grow over the years. University of Minnesota Professor Gerald Shurson, who was traveling in Japan during FEW, was selected as the winner of the Award of Excellence, which will be presented June 6. This award recognizes those that have made significant contributions to the industry through research, technical advisory or other development activities.

Johnson served as the Ethanol Answer Man for 10 years, on contract with the state of Minnesota, working to educate consumers, manufacturers and mechanics about ethanol. He got the gig after a discussion over drinks, lamenting the fact that the petroleum industry had an advocate—the Shell Answer Man—but that there was nobody for the media to go to for answers about ethanol. “Somebody said, ‘Well, we need an Ethanol Answer Man,’” Johnson said.

Working with other industry leaders, Johnson also helped get legislation passed in 1986 that significantly increased funding for the Minnesota fuel ethanol industry. The bill was for a 20-cent a gallon payment on the first 15 million gallons of ethanol produced yearly at Minnesota ethanol production plants. The ethanol plant in Marshall, Minn., which today is owned by Archer Daniels Midland Co., was the first plant built as a direct result of that bill. “That’s the key piece of legislation that got the Minnesota industry started,” he said.

Johnson also worked as a consultant, leading more than 500 developer presentations at ethanol investor meetings, resulting in the financing and construction of ethanol plants across the U.S. After working as a consultant for Delta-T Corp., developing an ethanol marketing company for the business, he was hired on as the director of business development and worked for the company for six years. Since establishing LLJ Consulting Johnson has been working for companies developing next-generation ethanol projects, including Inbicon.

Shurson, a U of M professor in the department of Animal Science, was honored for his work in the area of distillers grains. “His work has been critical for widespread adoption and use of DDGS in swine diets throughout the U.S., and his research presentations have been instrumental in the rapid growth of DDGS use in over 15 countries,” said F. Abel Ponce de Leon, senior associate dean of the research and graduate programs for the U of M’s college of food, agriculture and natural resources.

In 1998 Shurson had yet to complete one research project on DDGS when he was asked to meet with a group of general managers from Minnesota ethanol plants and a marketing company. They wanted to know why swine producers or animal nutritionists weren’t willing to use DDGS in swine diets and wanted to expand the use of the coproduct outside the cattle industry, Shurson told EPM. A voluntary 10-cent per ton checkoff program was established and the funds were used to conduct the very first experiments on whether the coproduct was a suitable feed for swine, he said. That led to other groups offering funding for similar research projects—leading to a large body of work researching the use of DDGS in swine production.

Since 2002, he has published—among other things—37 peer-reviewed manuscripts, 67 abstracts, 13 textbook chapters and white papers. Shurson was recently asked to revise the third edition of the DDGS handbook for the U.S. Grains Council after also serving as the sole author of both the first and second editions. He has also co-authored articles about the use of DDGS in swine diets for the Journal of Animal Science and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. 

Shurson also developed and manages a U of M website about DDGS, which he calls a one-stop-shop for research-based information. The website helps him manage his time, he said, as he is often “bombarded by emails and phone calls” about DDGS. It is well used, with close to 7,500 hits a day from people representing more than 60 different countries.

In addition, two students were named as the winners of the 2012 Kathy Bryan Memorial Scholarship, which in 2010 was dedicated to Bryan, the co-founder of BBI International, FEW and Ethanol Producer Magazine. Bryan died of cancer in 2009. Each of two winners receives a $2,000 scholarship.

Jason Croat of Rushmore, Minn., has worked as an intern fermentation research team for Poet Research for three years, including this year. He has also worked part time for Rural Technologies Inc., diagnosing fermentation inhibitors in the laboratory. In 2009 he received an Associates of Applied Science in Biotechnology from Minnesota West Community and Technical College, after which he started work on a double major in biotechnology and microbiology at South Dakota State University. His goal is to work in the ethanol industry.

Lamberton, Minn., resident Hillary Kletscher is the daughter of the CEO of Highwater Ethanol LLC. She has spent two summers working at an ethanol plant, assisting with vendor and investor communications, and is a marketing intern for Pioneer Hi-Bred this summer. She is a student at Iowa State University majoring in biological systems engineering with a biorenewables emphasis. She spent a semester researching the cost of producing plastics from renewable sources. Her goal is to graduate in five years with bachelor’s of science in engineering and a master’s degree in business administration.