Three Decades Strong

The International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo will celebrate its 30th anniversary in June. With plant personnel making up more than a fourth of its 2,000 attendees, the world’s longest-running ethanol event is still “Where Producers Meet."
By Tom Bryan | April 10, 2014

Throughout its first decade, the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo’s well-known acronym—FEW—was truly apropos. To say it was a small conference back then would have been an understatement. The FEW began in the summer of 1985 as a 40-person gathering in St. Louis. Those who were there remember the workshop being more of a technical retreat for a fledgling industry than a global ethanol production forum. There were no exhibitors. There was no elaborately decorated general session stage. There weren’t even breakout sessions. It was a one-room meeting for a devoted group of industry colleagues who believed in ethanol and wanted to see the industry grow.
“The technical fellowship that grew out of the early workshops and conferences such as FEW is one of the strengths that still catalyzes the efficiency that this industry strives for today,” says Bob Sutthoff, technical sales director at Enzyme Development Corp. and the person who spearheaded the FEW in its early years.   

Growth would not come quickly, for the ethanol industry or the FEW. In the decade that followed that inaugural FEW huddle, the conference remained small, growing in step with the unhurried expansion of the U.S. ethanol industry. The event’s momentum picked up in the ’90s as 200 people attended in 1993, about 400 in 1997, and nearly 700 in 1999. Year by year the numbers picked up as modern dry mill corn ethanol plants were being constructed across the Corn Belt. In 2002, the FEW reached a tipping point, becoming a 1,000-person event with deep international reach.   

In the half-decade that followed, the ethanol industry grew at a whirlwind pace, and so did the conference. Nearly 3,500 people attended the FEW in Milwaukee in 2006 as the ethanol plant construction boom hit stride. The conference reached its attendance high mark in 2007 when 5,000 people returned to St. Louis, followed by 4,000 attendees in Nashville in 2008. By the spring of 2009, however, the industry’s rapid pace of growth had fallen off dramatically. The brunt of the banking collapse and the onset of the Great Recession hit the ethanol industry hard, but the industry didn’t abandon its favorite summer gathering. More than 2,100 industry professionals showed up in Denver for the 2009 FEW, establishing a new normal attendance. Despite the industry’s challenging times, the resolute commitment of its leading producers, service providers and technology companies ensured the show’s ongoing success.   

Constancy has defined the FEW since 2009, as it has attracted over 2,000 attendees and 350 exhibitors five years running. More importantly, the FEW draws more than 500 ethanol plant personnel each year—principally management—living up to its billing as the place “Where Producers Meet.” Today, the FEW remains the largest, longest-running ethanol event in the world, representing an ethanol industry that, in the U.S. alone, is a $44 billion industry capable of producing 14 billion gallons of ethanol annually.

This year's FEW will be held in Indianapolis, Ind., June 9-12. Early bird registrationends April 28. Visit for details.

The Stages of FEW
As FEW attendance has grown, particularly from 2002 to present day, the scale and scope of its general sessions also expanded. Each year, BBI’s program team reserves one or two “big topic” issues for the general session. It has become a tradition to include keynote speeches from high-profile industry leaders like RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, who will keynote this year’s FEW in Indianapolis on June 10. It’s also become customary to feature ethanol plant general managers and other industry thought leaders on the show’s big stage each June. Here’s a look at some memorable general session moments from the past decade.  

Recognizing Our Best
Seeing an opportunity for the ethanol industry to recognize individuals who attain considerable technical success or otherwise dedicate their career to the advancement of the ethanol industry, BBI International began its FEW awards tradition in 2000, presenting the first Award of Excellence to Raphael Katzen, the late founder of Katzen International. The following year, Dick Gadomski of Process Systems Inc. received the first Distinguished Service Award (now called the High Octane Award), and the FEW awards tradition was born.

In the past 13 years, the FEW has awarded 21 industry professionals with either the Award of Excellence or the High Octane Award, the former recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to the ethanol industry through their research or technology, and the latter recognizing a person whose passion and unstoppable pursuits have significantly benefited the ethanol industry.
From 2000 to 2006, the awards were presented on an alternating basis. Starting in 2007, both awards are now presented annually. Last year’s recipients were Kevin Hicks of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (Award of Excellence) and Dan Schwartzkopf of ICM Inc. (High Octane Award).

The deadline for this year's awards nomination process is May 9. Visit and click onAwards for more information.   

The Expo Experience
The FEW expo is the largest ethanol industry trade show experience in the world, with more than 2,000 people participating each year. Notably, more than 500 upper-level ethanol plant personnel—one fourth of the total attendance—go to the FEW seeking new opportunities and tailored solutions to the unique challenges they face. The event has been named one of Tradeshow Week’s “Fastest 50” expos, and today features more than 350 exhibitors, including suppliers and technology providers, equipment manufacturers and other service providers such as ethanol and coproduct marketers, risk management companies and providers of ethanol plant financial services. Here’s a look at some notable FEW expo views and moments.    

Technical Talks
The FEW is perhaps best known for its informative technical breakout sessions. The format of the event’s concurrent sessions has changed over the years, but the aim of its content—and the criteria of its presentations—has remained constant. Still “Linking Industry with Innovation,” the FEW’s breakout sessions include four tracks, 24 panels and over 100 speakers and moderators. Tracks include: Production and Operations; Leadership and Financial Management; Coproducts and Product Diversification; and Cellulosic and Advanced Ethanol.     

The 2014 FEW technical sessions are now online. Visit and click on Agenda to view the program.

Going Places  
Outside of the expo hall and panel sessions, FEW attendees enjoy the show’s rich tradition of visiting nearby ethanol plants—before or after the main conference—and then winding down at the conference’s relaxed closing night event. For many, attending FEW special events is an important part of the overall conference experience. It’s also a great way to network, build a deeper understanding of the ethanol industry, and make the most of the week at the FEW. Here are some unforgettable extracurricular FEW moments of the past decade.