Ethanol industry pioneer dies

By Ron Kotrba | January 12, 2009
Web exclusive posted Jan. 26, 2009, at 11:28 a.m. CST

On Dec. 23, 2008, the industry lost a dear friend and leader when David Kelsall, 62, passed away peacefully in his La Crosse, Wis., home. On Jan. 31, the industry will celebrate his life at a special dinner.

Born in England in December 1945, Kelsall held a bachelors degree in chemistry from London University, and a master's degree from the British School of Malting and Brewing at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

In the early 1980s, Kelsall accepted the position of Brewmaster for G. Heilman Brewing Co. in La Crosse, Wis. Shortly afterwards, he joined Alltech. In 2004, Kelsall joined Lallemand Ethanol Technology following the company's acquisition of the Alltech Alcohol Division. According to Lallemand's Web site, "Kelsall will be remembered as an entrepreneurial figure in the ethanol industry; a passionate, optimistic person that influenced many in his field." He helped start the Alcohol School, a program revered by those in the fermentation business worldwide.

In 2007, Kelsall won the High Octane Award at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in St. Louis, Mo. The award, formerly called the Distinguished Service Award, is a people's choice award of sorts and speaks to the gravitas of Kelsall's influence.

In a Q&A with Kelsall in Sept. 2007, he told Ethanol Producer Magazine he believed the greatest contribution he offered to the ethanol industry was helping fermentation. "When we started in the early ‘80s, we weren't very efficient," Kelsall told EPM. "We would get yields of about 2.5 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn, and we're now close to three gallons. We did that through attention to detail, extracting all of the starch and some of the fiber that's in the corn. That yield is money, and that's where we made the most improvements."

In a 2008 interview with Keith Kor, general manager of Corn Plus, Kor told EPM that one of the people he most admired and whose influence had the most bearing on his professional career in the ethanol industry was Dave Kelsall. "I've known Dave for a long time and he's a top notch person," Kor said. "He's been influential to me."

A dinner celebrating Kelsall's life will be held in La Crosse, Wis., on Jan. 31, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the La Crosse Center. Attendees are asked to RSVP and provide their name and contact information to [email protected].