Presidential visit to Poet ethanol plant in Missouri good for the whole industry

By Holly Jessen | April 15, 2010
Posted April 28, 2010

Macon, Mo.—President Barack Obama had some very positive words to say about biofuels during his April 28 visit to the Poet Biorefining plant in Macon, Mo. "There shouldn't be any doubt that renewable, homegrown fuels are a key part of our strategy for a clean energy future," he told a crowd of 133 invited guests. Besides about 200 people traveling with the President, those in attendance were various media—including Ethanol Producer Magazine—plus Poet employees, key staff and board members.

Macon, a town of about 5,500 people, has been home to the Poet ethanol plant for nearly 10 years. It produces 46 MMgy of ethanol from corn and, Poet announced last week, will someday also produce cellulosic ethanol from corn stover, as will all 26 Poet plants.

Speaking in the grains building of the ethanol plant, Obama outlined investments made in clean energy in the last year. Those investments, part of the Recovery Act, were meant to create or save more than 700,000 jobs by the end of 2012. It included, the President said, an $800 million investment funding for ethanol fueling infrastructure, biorefining construction and advanced biofuels research. It's all to help America reach the goal of tripling U.S. biofuel production in the next 12 years. "That is a goal that we can achieve," the President said to the sound of applause, "that's being worked on right here at Poet."

While campaigning, Obama said, he visited many towns like Macon, where people talked about how making ends meet was getting a lot harder. And young people felt the only way they could "make a go of it" was to leave home. Success stories like Poet Macon prove that doesn't have to be true, the President said.

He also pointed out that this wasn't his first visit to an ethanol plant. In 2007, Obama was the keynote speaker at the grand opening of the ethanol plant in Charles City, Iowa, now owned and operated by Valero Energy Corp. "I didn't just discover the potential of biofuels," he said.

After the president left, Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy talked about how exciting it was to hear the President supporting ethanol—especially considering that he visited a corn ethanol plant. His speech reiterated what the country needs to do to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and the important role ethanol has and will continue to have in that. "It's great when you have the most powerful person in the world saying, ‘I'm with you,'" Buis said.

Steve Burnett, general manager of the Macon plant, took the President on a tour of the plant, where he met with a select group of Poet employees. Also in attendance was Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Having the President visit an ethanol plant wasn't just good for Poet and it wasn't just good for the ethanol industry, Burnett said. It's also good for farming and farm families. The Poet Macon plant is more than 81 percent owned by 311 farmer members from the surrounding area. "It's really a great day for agriculture," he said.

Poet CEO Jeff Broin agreed that the event had been a boost for the industry. "President Obama has shown tremendous support for ethanol in the past, and it was great to hear that he remains steadfast in his support for clean, homegrown, renewable fuel," he said. "Poet has more than 1,500 team members in locations across the Midwest working hard each day to offset oil imports. With continued support from Washington for grain-based and cellulosic ethanol, every state in the nation can take part in giving America a secure energy future."

The stop at the ethanol plant was part of Obama's "White House to Main Street Tour" that kicked off December 2009 as a way for Obama to get out of Washington and spend time with American families. Since that time he's made stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Georgia.

On April 27 he made several stops in Iowa, starting with a visit to Siemens Energy Inc. in Fort Madison; an organic farm and, later, a restaurant in Mt. Pleasant; and then a town hall meeting in Ottumwa. After leaving the ethanol plant on April 28, he swung by a hog farm in rural Palmyra, Mo., followed by a trip to Quincy, Ill.