ICM employee, USDA researcher receive annual awards at FEW

By Holly Jessen | June 11, 2013

A USDA researcher and an advocate for ethanol as a race fuel were honored June 11 at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo.

Kevin Hicks, research leader for the Sustainable Biofuels and Coproducts Research Unit of the USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Center, received the Award of Excellence, while ICM Inc. employee Dan Schwartzkopf was presented with the High Octane Award.  

Hicks said he was honored and humbled to receive the award, adding that the years he has spent researching biofuels and biofuel coproducts have been the most gratifying and satisfying of his career. “I will continue to do whatever I can to promote this industry,” he said.

More than a decade ago, Hicks was frustrated with the lack of awards for fuel ethanol researchers. So he called up BBI International co-founder Kathy Bryan and suggested an award be given out at the FEW. Bryan told him she had the same idea and by the next year the first award was presented to Raphael Katzen. Hicks had no idea, he said, that his own name would someday be on the list of award winners.

Hicks has worked for the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s ERRC for nearly 34 years. He leads a team of 30 scientists and engineers researching the development of sustainable biofuels and coproducts from agricultural commodities and byproducts. He is the author of about 250 peer-reviewed technical publications and 10 patents. Previously, the team of researchers lead by Hicks was awarded the National Technology Transfer Award by ARS for helping to create the winter barley ethanol initiative. The team also won awards for work on ethanol coproducts, including cholesterol-lowering corn fiber oils and corn fiber “gum” that was recently commercialized as a bio-based adhesive and emulsifier.

Hicks, who grew up on a farm in Missouri, recalls how hard his father worked on the farm in addition to a 40-hour a week job at a shoe factory. Later, in 1979 after he completed his doctorate, the second oil embargo hit, making him realize how vulnerable the U.S. was, because it was not energy independent. In the 1990s he started attending National Corn Growers Association meetings and began a research program in bioenergy at ERRC. That was also the decade when he went to his first FEW. “The people I met at FEW, like previous Award of Excellence winners Bruce Dale, Rodney Bothast, Raphael Katzen, Mike Ingledew, Jay Shetty and Phil Madson inspired me to work even harder to help make biofuels better, cheaper and more environmentally sustainable,” he said. “I am humbled for my name to be even mentioned along with that line up of all-star biofuels researchers.”

Schwartzkopf’s involvement in promoting ethanol as a racing fuel began in 1992, when his son, then a high school student, said he wanted to start drag racing. Since he had been involved in Wyoming Ethanol LLC it seemed a natural fit to use ethanol as a racing fuel. At the time he had no idea how that idea would snowball into more than 20 years of assisting various racing entities in transitioning to ethanol. “I just knew in my heart, if we’re going to do this and we’re producers of fuel ethanol, we’re going to make this work,” he said.

Through the years, Schwartzkopf has promoted ethanol as a true performance fuel, not just an additive. He worked with the Indy Racing League, producing ethanol and specifying the blend composition of the fuel. He also worked with the National Hot Rod Association in making E85 a certified fuel for the sport and developed Millennium Race Fuels, an ethanol-blended racing fuel used by the American Power Boat Association after MTBE was banned from use in many lakes. Currently, he’s the performance ethanol technical specialist for the U.S. Auto Club, which signed a three-year deal with Ignite Racing Fuels for 1008 and 114 octane E90 fuel. And that’s just some of the work Schwartzkopf has done with various racing teams in the last more than 20 years. “It’s been a long fight,” he said.

Schwartzkopf, now the manager of customer relations for ICM, readily admits he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support of some key people. He named his son and his wife as two people who were in it with him from the beginning, doing whatever was needed. Bryan of BBI and Dave Vander Griend, founder of ICM, were two other strong supporters. “One guy, Dan Schwartzkopf, couldn’t do this by myself,” he said.