Spirit of Innovation Alive and Well

Brian Jennings celebrates the success of Quad County Corn Processors, which unveiled a technology for converting corn fiber into cellulosic ethanol. The ethanol plants' engineer is part of ACE's "power by people" campaign.
By Brian Jennings | August 14, 2014

When I first started working for the American Coalition for Ethanol, I put a lot of miles on the flex-fuel vehicle (FFV), traveling to speak at ceremonies celebrating the construction and completion of ethanol plants. Remember those days?

Our industry hasn’t dug a lot of dirt or cut many ribbons lately, but ACE-member Quad County Corn Processors is bringing the grand opening ceremony back this month when they unveil a technology innovation to convert corn kernel fiber into cellulosic biofuel.

Their timing couldn’t be better as the future of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) hangs in the balance and our opponents have jumped on the fact that production cellulosic biofuel is behind schedule. Perhaps no other source of fuel has been so anticipated and under such tremendous scrutiny. Consider that some of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world (including oil companies) have tried to perfect the process of converting cellulose to biofuel. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t an army of scientists employed by an oil company or venture capital tycoon who figured out how to commercialize cellulosic ethanol first, it was Quad County’s plant engineer Travis Brotherson and CEO Delayne Johnson. Travis and Delayne are humble and quick to point out theirs is a team effort.

While it may come as a surprise to outsiders, to ACE it makes perfect sense that the 35 employees and 353 farmer shareholders who reside in the Iowa counties of Cherokee, Buena Vista, Ida and Sac will be the first people on the planet to produce two renewable fuels—corn-starch ethanol and cellulosic biofuel—from the same feedstock at the same site. That’s because the sharpest minds of this industry are the innovative men and women at the grassroots, working at and investing in locally owned ethanol plants that make up the majority of the members of ACE.

To help promote the fact Quad County is making cellulosic ethanol technology history, ACE interviewed Travis. (Check out the videos at www.ethanol.org/people/video-gallery)
In one of our videos, you’ll hear Travis say “taking the job as engineer at Quad County Corn Processors was one of the best decisions of my life because it gave my wife and I an opportunity to stay in our homeplace.” Here’s a guy who earned an aerospace degree and probably could have been living in sunny Florida helping NASA build rockets. What Delayne and the Quad County board of directors provided Travis and his wife, Kristi, were jobs in their homeplace and the freedom to innovate, take chances, and in this case, to make cellulosic ethanol history together (Kristi works as the chief financial officer of Quad County).

When our opponents try to portray ethanol as something that’ll ruin engines or starve children, our industry frequently responds by dribbling out the latest and greatest data point or statistic. What Travis and Delayne remind us is that ethanol is first and foremost about people, regular people who joined forces to commit their own money and time to rescue their families, neighbors, and communities by building locally owned businesses in their towns. It just so happens that in the case of Quad County, they also happened to crack the code to making cellulosic ethanol a commercial reality before other more well-financed and celebrated entities.

Travis and Delayne are the most recent examples of the “power by people” theme ACE is promoting in our new campaign to help the public better appreciate that ethanol shouldn’t just be valued based on the money it saves folks at the pump, but by the human good it delivers as well.

And Quad County isn’t the only ACE member to take innovative steps to bring back the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies either. Adkins Energy, Patriot Renewable Fuels, Prairie Horizon Agri-Energy and East Kansas Agri-Energy are all in the process of breaking ground on or building projects to produce biodiesel or renewable diesel at their plants.

As Travis concludes in one of our videos, “the spirit of innovation is alive and well.” I couldn’t say it better myself.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol
[email protected]