FEW attendees urged to press back against attacks on the RFS

By Holly Jessen | June 06, 2012

Don’t mess with the RFS. It was heard over and over at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, including from Tom Buis and Jim Collins, who spoke the morning of June 6. “[The renewable fuel standard] was a visionary piece of legislation and it really put the U.S on the map as a world leader in bofuel production,” said Collins, the president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences. Buis gave opening remarks the morning of June 6, followed by a keynote presentation by Collins, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences.

The RFS is likely safe from appeal in an election year, Buis said, but efforts to repeal it are brewing. “If we roll the RFS back we will pick winners and losers and the winner is oil,” he said, adding that it will halt the progress of advanced biofuels as well.

It’s the industry’s job to respond to attacks such as these and Buis urged every person in attendance to get involved immediately. “Write a letter to every congressman and senator in your area,” he said, adding that there are plans to create a large coalition in support of the RFS and unity will be needed to accomplish that.  

Collins seconded Buis, adding that the industry must stay on track with a unified and consistent message. Besides writing letters to lawmakers, Collins urged attendees to talk to their neighbors about the positives of ethanol. Employees working in the ethanol industry need to hear the story too. “Fire them up as well, get them involved,” he said.

The first-generation ethanol industry has accomplished many good things, Collins said, pointing to data that shows ethanol has reduced the country’s dependence on foreign oil and resulted in savings at the pump for consumers. “Ethanol is good for our environment and it’s good for families and that makes good economic sense,” he said.

Today, cellulosic ethanol is finally becoming a reality, with companies building commercial-scale facilities. DuPont has operated a pilot plant in Vonore, Tenn., for the last two years and is now building its 28 MMgy corn stover cellulosic ethanol plant adjacent to Lincolnway Energy LLC, a corn-ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. The location was chosen partially due to a good supply of corn, access to rail and  existing infrastructure. However, the fact that it will be next to such a well-run plant was also a draw. “We chose to work with Lincolnway so we can build on each other’s strengths,” he said.

DuPont is in good company, Collins said, mentioning BP, Abengoa Bioenergy and Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels as three others working on major commercial-scale plants. All together, the facilities will produce about 100 MMgy cellulosic ethanol and create more than 500 direct jobs. “All of these numbers start to tell a story,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, that story is, commercial development of cellulosic ethanol is a reality. It’s here today.”

One thing of critical importance to the success of the cellulosic ethanol industry is making the biomass supply chain affordable, sustainable and scalable. One common misconception is that harvesting corn stover removes a significant amount of biomass from the land, resulting in negative effects. “We have learned how to strike the right balance to ensure fertility and erosion control over every acre,” he said, showing before and after photos of  stover collection that looked virtually the same. In fact, growers say that increased biomass due to corn varieties with higher yield and disease resistance traits (which inhibit biomass breakdown) has resulted in an ever-increasing problem where stover harvest can actually have some benefits. “In some cases, growers are seeing yield improvements and quicker competitive stand establishment for their following year crop,” he said.

Collins also said he believes in an all-of-the-above energy strategy, which includes retrofitting some existing corn-ethanol facilities to butanol. Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture of DuPont and BP, has signed letters of intent from three ethanol producers, including Lincolnway, for retrofits from ethanol to butanol production. More plants are expected to join in later this year, Collins said.

Buis also talked about the importance of market access by highlighting efforts to get E15 approved for sale. After scaling hurdle after hurdle, the final approval required by the U.S. EPA is expected within days, he said. The next steps include state regulatory hurdles and convincing retailers to carry the fuel at their stations. The partnership between American Ethanol has helped prepare consumers for E15 by showing the sport’s millions of fans that the fuel works in racecars with no problems and will work in their vehicles too. Buis showed the audience commercials that run during NASCAR broadcasts that prominently feature the green American Ethanol flag. The third and final commercial was a new one that will be shown for the first time the weekend of July 9. It shows a family in minivan passing a NASCAR racecar on the track. “E15 was made for your car,” the narrator said. “Try not to let it go to your head.” The line prompted spontaneous laughter and clapping from the audience at FEW.