Franken on economic growth, ethanol

(article by Janet Kubat Willette, published by

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Sen. Al Franken talked about education, health care and ethanol during a meeting with the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board Jan. 13.

Franken, a Democrat, spent several days visiting manufacturers across the state. On Jan. 13, he visited SAGE Electrochromics in Faribault, MRG Tool and Die in Faribault, Viracon in Owatonna, Al-Corn Clean Fuels in Claremont and Mayo Clinic, where he toured the Mayo Clinic Gene and Viral Therapy facility.

A lot of hi-tech jobs are going unfilled, Franken said. In the debate between cutting taxes and raising taxes a third option is lost, he said. The third option is to grow our way out of the recession. Ways to grow the economy aren’t talked about often enough, he said….

(Specifically on ethanol) Ethanol plants are becoming more and more efficient, Franken said. They put more energy out than goes in. Also, ethanol is a renewable fuel produced in the United States, not Saudi Arabia.

Renewable fuels are part of the nation’s energy future. They are also good for farmers and rural communities.

He said he hopes corn ethanol is only a transition to cellulosic ethanol using perennials or another fuel stock.

Our Take:
We don’t like to quibble with friends, and Senator Franken is a strong friend of the farmer and value-added agricultural industries like ethanol–clearly it’s part of his vision of “growing our way out of the recession.”

But rather than speaking of corn ethanol as “only a transition to cellulosic ethanol,” we would like to hear Franken and other enlightened leaders speak about grain-based ethanol as a bridge to the future of renewable fuels, which may include not only cellulosic ethanol but other forms of energy (butanol, ‘green gasoline’ and other things not dreamed of yet)–the common thread being adding revenue streams and prosperity for American farmers. Grain-based energy doesn’t need to step aside, but rather provides the ongoing foundation for biomass innovation.

The leading innovators in ethanol, like design and process engineering company ICM, Inc. out of Colwich, Kansas, are pioneering ‘fractionation’ — which is the separation of the grain into constituent parts, in order to deliver even more energy from a bushel of grain. Fractionation will allow the processing of the bran–the cellulosic part of the corn grain–into ethanol. In addition fractionation can enhance the already considerable food value of the processed grains, after the fuel has been produced. As ICM officials say–the ethanol plant is only a stop along the way for the corn as it travels from the farm to the feedlot–the high protein, low fat corn endosperm and germ become feed products that give soybean meal a run for the money when it comes to feeding not only beef cattle, but dairy cows, hogs and poultry.

Please, Senator Franken and other friends of ethanol in government leadership roles, do not speak of “corn and then cellulose,” but rather “corn, cellulose and a future of biomass-based energy and materials fabrication that ultimately replaces all petroleum-based energy and materials.”

These solutions will add American jobs, enhance our national security by reducing the flow of dollars to enemy nations, and reduce the environmental impact of energy production and consumption.


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