By Land, Sky, Sea … and Beyond

Ethanol Producer Magazine's editor previews the articles in the publication's March edition. The latest issue includes stories about turning ethanol into low-carbon shipping fuel, the state of U.S. rail, pet food and aquaculture markets, and more.
By Tom Bryan | January 22, 2023

Before we’ve even fully wrapped our heads around the idea of sustainable aviation fuel taking our industry from ground to sky, our most underappreciated coproduct is suddenly poised to help decarbonize transport by sea. Space might very well be next, but let’s take it one step at a time.  

We usually pass on claims about turning carbon dioxide into fuel—we’ve all heard it before—but the news about Red River Energy LLC, a 36 MMgy ethanol plant in eastern South Dakota, partnering with Carbon Sink to produce green methanol for international shipping giant Maersk really grabbed our attention (I mean, what can’t ethanol become?). 

Construction on the biobased methanol facility won’t start for another two years, but the plan helps us envision how one segment of our industry might pursue carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) while the rest may opt for carbon capture and utilization (CCU), fulfilling both conventional market needs for CO2, like beverage carbonation and dry ice, and new uses like this—diesel-replacing biofuel for massive ocean-going vessels. We detail this bold CCU play in “Tying Onto CO2 Utilization,” on page 14, explaining what motivated Red River Energy to welcome Carbon Sink onto its campus in lieu of CCS. Hint: decarbonized heat, less natural gas use and a lower CI helped seal the deal.

 Ultimately, Carbon Sink intends to co-locate with as many as 10 ethanol plants across the Midwest to fulfill what it foresees as a huge global demand for green methanol, which isn’t just a good diesel replacement but a good product for variety of industrial uses from plastics and paints to foams and fibers. Is this the start of a CO2 utilization renaissance? Maybe. 

Next, on page 22, we turn our focus from our least monetized coproduct to our most in “Circling New Opportunities.” Distillers coproducts come in many forms—all are valuable—but the advent of high protein, more than anything else, seems to be opening doors to two exciting new markets: aquaculture and pet food. Both markets come with steep challenges (regulation, standards, audits, scrutiny) but they are worth winning for those that can.

Moving both ethanol and ethanol coproducts to market is, of course, highly dependent on the capacity of U.S. rail. After averting a national labor strike and starting to reverse notable declines in speed and service, the rail industry seems to be in recovery. In “A Lot On the Lines,” on page 28, we look at what likely caused the problems, most notably longer dwell times and slower speed. It’s never one thing, but a workforce shortage is the principal cause of both reduced service and a disconnect between carriers and the unions that almost shut down rail—and ethanol with it. Thank goodness we’re past it.
Finally, be sure to read “Cashing In On Clean,” on page 34, a useful look at how clean-in place, or CIP, coupled with other key microbial control practices, is a key pilar of good plant hygiene and plant optimization. As we report, doing it right can literally save you millions.

Author: Tom Bryan
Editor and President