Go Time for E15, Wheels Up for SAF

Ethanol Producer Magazine editor Tom Bryan previews the articles in the June issue, including stories on ethanol-based SAF, current production margins, grain ethanol production in Brazil, President Biden's visit to an Iowa ethanol plant and more.
By Tom Bryan | May 22, 2022

As we put the final touches on the agenda for this year’s International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, our team wrestled over what to feature in the general session. Beyond policy and markets—year-round E15, let’s get it!—we ultimately agreed that carbon capture and sequestration and high-protein production were hot topics that should be on the ticket. But sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) was also high on our list and will probably show up on the FEW’s big stage as boldly as it does this month’s cover.  

Ethanol-based SAF, or “alcohol-to-jet,” is a subject most producers are keeping a close eye on right now. This month’s cover story, “Ethanol’s Own SAF Runway,” helps explain how supplying ethanol for SAF could springboard this industry into a whole new, multi-billion-gallon market for its primary output. As the page-16 feature explains, two of the nation’s largest ethanol producers have already locked into supply deals, committing more than a billion gallons of alcohol to future biojet fuel production. There’s no longer any question: a global race to secure low-carbon feedstock for biobased jet fuel has begun, and ethanol is in it.

The prospect of an entirely new global market for ethanol is thrilling, but until SAF production archives scale, ethanol producers will have to keep selling ethanol as a fuel, not a refining feedstock, and make the most of the markets and margins they currently enjoy. In “Workable Volatility,” on page 24, we look at the current profitability of ethanol production, which is good but uncertain. Ethanol plants are making money, but $8 corn and surging natural gas prices make future profitability tough to guarantee.

The price of corn is, of course, everything in this business. In fact, it was the possibility of cheap corn in Brazil that made grain ethanol production feasible there to begin with. Advancements in biotechnology and the ability to double-crop corn and soybeans is a big reason corn ethanol plants are being built in Brazil. The country now has 16 such plants, with more under construction. As we report in “Corn Ethanol Boom In Brazil,” on page 34, grain ethanol production volume there could surpass 2 billion gallons by 2028 if current trends continue. We keep peering at ethanol through the lens of South American production in “Biogas Feedstock from Within,” on page 44, which explains how a German company helped corn ethanol producers in Argentina convert thin stillage into biogas for on-site energy. Then, we look at the improbable but intriguing idea of pure ethanol, or E100, being sold at the pump in the U.S., like it is in Brazil. In “The E100 Evangelist,” on page 50, a former General Motors employee explains why he thinks it should happen. 

While E100 would be cool, our industry is more than happy to have a temporary hold on year-round E15, which was secured in April under the regrettable circumstances of rising inflation and “Putin’s price hike.” President Biden’s emergency fuel waiver, and his visit to POET Bioprocessing-Menlo to discuss it (see "Barnstorming for Summertime E15," on page 54), was a big win for ethanol this spring. And despite how distasteful the old political axiom is, we shouldn’t let this crisis go to waste. We have a second chance at summertime E15. We need to grow the higher blend over the next 12 months and find a way to permanently secure its year-round use, not because of Russia, but for all the right reasons here at home.        

Author: Tom Bryan
Contact: [email protected]