FEW recognizes Moore, Walker for contributions to fuel ethanol

By Tim Albrecht and Erin Voegele | June 12, 2018

Kristin Moore and Graeme Walker were recognized June 12 for their contributions to ethanol industry during the 2018 Fuel Ethanol Workshop and Expo in Omaha. Moore was presented with the High-Octane Award and Walker received the Award of Excellence.

The High Octane Award recognizes a person whose commitment and passion have benefited the ethanol industry. Moore was honored for more than two decades of service benefiting the ethanol industry.

She first began her career working for Archer Daniels Midland Co. at its ethanol plant in Peoria, Illinois, in 1994. “This is where I was first referred to as the First Lady of Alcohol,” she said, noting that she then  transferred to the corn plant in Decatur before stepping out of industry and working for a national trade association. She worked at the Renewable Fuels Association from 2007 to 2015, where she served as vice president of technical services. Following her time at the RFA, Moore opened KMoore Consulting LLC, a company that provides comprehensive technical support in the development of renewable fuels and chemicals.

“There is a certain freedom that having your own company allows,” she said. “I am very lucky to have so many colleagues that ask for my help in advancing their businesses and industry goals.”

Moore’s presence in the ethanol industry is expanding beyond the U.S. “After working in Mexico on their Energy Reform and the first-time allowance of ethanol fuel blends, I really have a keen interest in working internationally,” she said. “I have greatly enjoyed relearning Spanish and learning about Mexico energy markets. I’d like to have a global impact of ethanol market development.”

Regarding the future of the U.S. ethanol industry, Moore said she’d like to see high octane fuels realized and indicated she will be doing all she can to see that goal reached.  “My roots are in operations and ethanol production,” she said. “I still stay in engaged with our industry people who are making it happen everyday. I need to support their quest to maintain the continuous improvement the industry has made over the last 40 years.  I also plan to be a leading educator and advocate for ethanol market development.”

During the awards ceremony at the FEW, Moore thanked the many mentors and colleagues she has encountered during her career in the ethanol industry. “Thank you for this distinguished honor. I am humbled to join the ranks of Tom Buis and Geoff Cooper by receiving this award,” she said. “My career in the ethanol industry includes a who’s who in this industry that have crossed my path and influenced my passion for global fuels.”

Moore concluded her speech saying, “To everyone here, when you feel like you’re losing the battle and the challenges are insurmountable. And you begin to question if this is all worth it. Call me and I’ll tell you why we must stay the course. Ethanol has a critical role in the future of energy and science is on our side. The world is counting on us to lead by example.”

The Award of Excellence recognizes the significant contributions an individual has made to the fuel ethanol industry through research, technical advisory or development activities. Walker was presented the award in recognition of his more than 40 years of work in the areas of yeast and fermentation.

Throughout his career, Walker has held academic positions and conducted research in the U.K., Denmark, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada and the U.S. He is currently a professor of zymology and director of the Abertay Yeast Research Group at Abertay University in Scotland. While he had conducted research on basic aspects of yeast physiology earlier in his career, Walker said his more applied alcohol fermentation research started when he worked at Dublin City University in Ireland.

“The broad area of my research can be described as yeast physiology and biotechnology,” Walker said. “This encompasses understanding more about yeast nutrition, growth, metabolism and stress responses in industrial fermentations… For bioethanol-related work, I have conducted research on bioconversion of diverse feedstocks to ethanol, including cheese whey, brewers/distillers spent grains and macroalgae (seaweeds). For lignocellulose-derived ethanol we have also evaluated the potential of using ultrasound (high frequency sound waves) to assist the hydrolysis of feedstocks to fermentable sugars. Other aspects of my research over the years has involved yeast nutrition for the optimization of alcohol fermentations. This focus has been on minerals such as Mg, Ca and Zn which are often overlooked by industrial alcohol producers.”

Walker notes his research has shown that the availability of key nutrients, such as minerals in fermentation media, plays and important role in dictating yeast fermentation performance. “For example, the levels of magnesium and zinc are especially important in optimizing alcohol production and in alleviating stress on yeast caused by high alcohol levels,” he said. “Calcium levels are also important as high Ca levels can suppress yeast activity and alcohol fermentation, especially in molasses, and can additionally cause downstream processing difficulties (scaling on distillation systems).”

According to Walker, the efficient utilization of sustainable feedstocks for alcohol production is an area of continued research interest for him, particularly exploitation of residues from agricultural practices and food production. “In short, we still have a lot to learn about yeast growth, physiology and metabolism in fermentations for biofuel and beverage alcohol production,” he said.

When asked about the future of yeast development for the biofuels industry, Walker said “the really exciting areas for development currently lie in yeast strain engineering. For example, gene editing and synthetic biology techniques have potential to revolutionize yeast-based biotechnologies in the future.”

In his accepting his award at the FEW conference, Walker expressed appreciation and discussed Scotland’s history in alcohol production.  “It’s a fantastic award and I’m extremely honored to accept this accolade,” he said. “You might be asking yourself why is a Scotsman up here accepting this award? In fact, Scotland doesn’t have a particularly active ethanol industry but we have been making ethanol for over 500 years, the problem is we bottle it,” Graeme said, creating a laugh throughout the crowd.

“I’d like to dedicate this to a lifelong friend and mentor,” he continued. “In fact, you guys wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this particular individual. His name is saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast used in brewing).”