FEW: Opening session covers policy, corn ethanol's carbon score, symbiosis

By Susanne Retka Schill | June 10, 2010
Posted June 15, 2010

Policy, carbon reduction and symbiosis were the topics of the morning session at the 26th annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo Tuesday morning, June 15, in St. Louis. The Gulf oil spill led the remarks of the event's first two speakers. "After all the saber rattling and desk pounding happening over this oil spill is over, we will recover," said Mike Bryan, chairman of BBI International in his welcoming remarks. "What's most important is to learn from this event. We will need oil for many decades. We need to maximize our domestic oil production and maximize our alternative energy production, from all sources."

"Now is the time to break our addiction to oil," said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, in his keynote address. "Now, no one in this room is naïve enough to believe that America is going to stop using oil today, tomorrow, or in the near future. But that should not deter us from aggressively proceeding with efforts to develop and deploy the wide range of ethanol technologies you in this room are developing. The lesson of the tragedy in the Gulf need not be that America must stop drilling off shore; rather, it must be that we need not drill at all if we properly empower the people in this room to do their jobs," Dinneen said to the ethanol producers and technology developers among the over 2,000 attendees at the conference.

Dinneen recounted the growth in the industry and the numerous challenges that have been overcome as well as still being faced today, such the multiple regulatory changes and waivers needed to be enacted to facilitate the expected implementation of E15. He also spoke of the importance of extending the blenders tax credit. "Extending these tax incentives comes at a critical juncture in the evolution of our industry," he said. "Existing ethanol biorefineries are developing breakthroughs in both the production process as well as the production of new co-products that are improving efficiencies, reducing inputs and making ethanol even more economically and environmentally sustainable."

"Additionally, tens of thousands of jobs are at risk," he warned. "Allowing the blenders credit to expire would cost the nation 112,000 jobs at a time of near-record unemployment. It would force nearly two out of every five ethanol plants to close. If the example of the biodiesel industry taught us anything, it is that we cannot wait."

Dinneen went on to summarize a number of the policy initiatives and issues facing the ethanol industry, closing his remarks with a reference to the internal political dynamics of the ethanol industry with the newcomer group Growth Energy joining the well established RFA and American Coalition for Ethanol working as an advocate for the ethanol industry. "Ours is an industry far too small to afford mixed messages and petty in-fighting," he said. "Regardless of your trade association of affiliation, we have thrived as an industry because we have always found a way to come together for the greater good. We have been successful because the men and women who make up this industry care not who is representing them, as long as those people work tirelessly on their behalf."

The keynote presentation was followed by two panel discussions. Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis moderated a panel examining corn ethanol's falling carbon score. Steffen Mueller, research economist at the university of Illinois-Chicago, related the results of a survey of ethanol producers showing marked improvement in efficiency of ethanol yield, water use and power use over the last decade. Charles Hurburgh, professor of ag and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, outlined the expected improvements in corn yields in the years ahead, and the need to allow corn ethanol production to expand beyond the 15 billion per year cap for corn-based ethanol receiving renewable identification numbers under the renewable fuels standard. An expected corn yield improvement between 4-6 percent per year in the next decade will result in 350-500 million more bushels of corn each year, he pointed out. With the use for traditional markets remaining relatively flat, ethanol use of corn needs to expand to absorb the increase. Pete Moss, vice president of market for Cereal Process Technologies and Martha Schlicher, technology lead for Monsanto Bioenergy, filled out the first panel talking about reducing corn ethanol's carbon score.

The second morning panel, moderated by G-Team principal Tom Corle, addressed the potential for industrial symbiosis. Niels Henricksen, CEO of Denmark-based Inbicon, described the synergies achieved at Kalundborg, Denmark, where Inbicon's demonstration cellulosic ethanol plant came online in late 2009. Nine organizations in the industrial site have over 30 agreements in place exchanging energy, recycling water and waste products among a power plant, oil refinery, enzyme manufacturer, wastewater treatment facility, Inbicon and others.

Three other panelists described their proposed projects illustrating several approaches being developed in the United States. Sandra Broekema, manager of business development for Great River Energy, described the existing synergies experienced by the co-location of Blue Flint Ethanol with the company's western North Dakota Coal Creek Station power plant. GRE is now building a 62 megawatt combined heat and power plant at Spiritwood, N.D., that will meet the steam requirements of the Cargill Malt plant next door. The company is seeking partners in a proposed 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant for the Spiritwood Energy Park.

John Gell, Genessee Regional Biofuels, described a project to locate a 20 MMgy woody biomass-based cellulosic ethanol plant in the Eastman Business Park in Rochester, N.Y., where film used to be made. The site includes rail access, nearby power plants and interstate access. In addition to water, power and steam, the long-time chemical production site has "public support for development," Gell said.

Peter Bendorf, Integro Services Group, described another brownfield site at Alton, Ill., being considered for an integrated ethanol project. In addition to a traditional dry mill corn ethanol plant, an Inbicon biomass refinery would integrate cellulosic ethanol production from corn stover into the corn ethanol stream. Other technologies being considered are Arisdyne cavitation and perma membrane dehydration technology.

With the conclusion of the morning session, the FEW continued with the expo and breakout session organized in five tracks: production/operations, management/business, cellulosic ethanol, disllters grains/coproducts and energy/carbon/environment.