Growth Energy members talk up benefits of ethanol, need for RFS

By Holly Jessen | September 12, 2012

A group of Growth Energy members spoke out in defense of the renewable fuel standard and U.S. ethanol during a Sept. 12 conference call held the final day of Growth Energy’s three-day conference. The list of speakers included management representing three ethanol production companies as well as a representative from an agricultural equipment manufacturer.

Jeff Lautt, president and CEO of Poet LLC spoke about the company’s progress in constructing the 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant known as Project Liberty. Though the facility is not yet completed, Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC has already had a positive economic impact in Emmetsburg, Iowa, with a new equipment dealership opening up and custom harvesting businesses sprouting up. It has also already provided revenue to area farmers for biomass harvests, he said. That positive economic impact will spread across the U.S. after the biorefinery is proven out at commercial scale in Emmetsburg, he said. The company plans to expand it to others of its 27 ethanol plants as well as license the technology to other ethanol producers.

The RFS is what has helped Poet get where it is today in the cellulosic ethanol world. “In short, the RFS is working. It was intended to spur investment, speed the development of new sources of fuel and it is doing just that,” he said. “It intended to make American farmers the new leaders in energy production, rather than the Middle East. It is doing that.”

If the RFS was waived or altered it would send out a negative signal to farmers considering biomass harvest as well as companies and investors looking to get into the renewable energy field. Before breaking ground on its first cellulosic plant Poet and DSM had each invested millions into cellulosic ethanol—and other companies are spending money on their own projects. “We’ve done that trusting that America’s vision of renewable fuel, domestic fuel production would not falter,” he said. “Our nation must remain faithful to the plan for a better energy future. We must maintain the integrity of the renewable fuel standard.”

Mark Cooper, director of growth initiatives for New Holland also talked about the importance of maintaining the course on the RFS. The company manufactures agricultural harvesting equipment, including balers to harvest, package and transport next-generation feedstocks for biofuel production. “As you might guess, the industry over the past few years has experienced double digit growth, and a big part of that is the development of a more stable farm economy, attributed to the growth in biofuels and ethanol production,” he said.” So it is very important to New Holland that we maintain the renewable fuel standard as it is, to provide that economic stability for our farm customers.”

Other speakers included Rick Schwark, president and CEO of Absolute Energy LLC, Dan Sanders Jr., company manager of Front Range Energy LLC and Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. In addition, while in Washington, D.C., for the event, more than 100 Growth Energy members hit Capitol Hill, speaking to lawmakers about the importance of the RFS. The annual conference also included a keynote address from USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilasck on Sept. 11. Vilsack, a strong advocate of ethanol, remains supportive of the RFS in the midst of the waiver request.