Minnesota Biofuels Association promotes, educates and advocates on behalf of farm-based energy

By Jonathan Eisenthal

It’s a three-pronged strategy to assure the strength and continuing growth of Minnesota’s biggest homegrown energy source, farm-based biofuels.

“We’re looking at promotional media efforts, educational projects for the schools and advocacy projects to fight for good energy policy in Saint Paul—with these three simultaneous approaches we’re aiming to make a positive impact on economic, environmental, educational and public policies regarding renewable, farm-based energy,” said Tim Rudnicki, who became executive director of the newly created Minnesota Biofuels Association on September 1.

At a billion gallons of annual production, employing 18,000 Minnesotans and bringing $6 billion dollars of economic activity each year, ethanol is a dynamic and important industry in Minnesota. And yet, it’s still plagued by public misperceptions and the potential for misinformation in the halls of the legislature is an ongoing risk. So the seven founding ethanol companies came together to create the Minnesota Biofuels Association to help ensure the future of ethanol and other biofuels in our state.

The eight producer members at this time are: Al-Corn Clean Fuel, Claremont; Central Minnesota Ethanol Coop, Little Falls; Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, Benson; CornPlus, Winnebago; Granite Falls Energy, Granite Falls; Guardian Energy, Janesville; Heartland Corn Products, Winthrop; and Highwater Ethanol, Lamberton.

The organization plans to create new membership categories, to allow other organizations and individuals beyond the ethanol producers themselves to join MBA.

“When it comes to promotion we’re talking about raising awareness through advertising,” said Rudnicki. “We recently launched ads that are appearing in local theaters. The message is that we do have a solution to our energy needs in hand, available right here and right now. We don’t have to wait for some grand magic. We have this fuel now. Our 30-second ad features visual motion and music and a voice over and comes on as a leader before the previews begin. We’re running this in a pilot phase in Minneapolis, where we are expecting 80,000 to 100,000 impressions. Next, we are going to be launching some ad campaigns for radio around the beginning of the year. We are targeting both metro and rural areas, and we anticipate reaching 400,000 listeners a week.”

Rudnicki praised Minnesota Ag in The Classroom, a curriculum program from Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which has long received significant support from Minnesota Corn Growers Association. The Minnesota Bio-Fuels Associationplans to support further development of modules that offer the latest information about ethanol and biodiesel.

At the level of secondary education, it’s important to share with students the broad variety of jobs offered by Minnesota’s renewable energy sector. Rudnicki likes to give the example of a recent University of Minnesota-Morris graduate in biochemistry who is now employed in the research laboratory at an ethanol facility. She is working on cutting edge technology with the potential to increase the efficiency and yield of the ethanol process.

“You’ve got all these different positions on the production side, instrument technicians, maintenance workers, team leaders, microbiologists, controllers in these operations, plant managers, general managers, to mention just a few of the types of jobs ethanol creates,” said Rudnicki. “When people pass by an ethanol plant what do they see? We want to say there’s no need to guess what’s happening in there, we will inform you. Once we get our web site up and running we will be a clearing house, not just for what type of positions are out there, but a whole spectrum of information and resources – for the general public, for policy makers and for industry producers.”

Minnesota Biofuels Association will concentrate its efforts on creating a groundswell around the notion that consumers should have expanded fuel choice options that include E85 as well as E15 and E20.

“The old shorthand about what farmers produce is three Fs—food, fiber, fuel, but I add that four more have become a vital part of what farmers offer us: Freedom From Fossil Fuels,” said Rudnicki. “If people have the choice, why not feel good about what you are putting in your fuel tank. If consumers have the choice of using homegrown, renewable biofuel, or finite fossil fuel, I think most people would choose using more homegrown, renewable motor fuel.People would feel good about what they are doing for the environment by using clean burning fuel and feel good about what they are doing for the economy.”

Rudnicki comes to role of executive director at Minnesota Biofuels Association having spent the last 15 years as an energy and environmental attorney, during which time he focused on using the law and the legislative process to find solutions for clients. His specialty has been working on policy issues to promote homegrown, renewable energy. Rudnicki has served as executive director in previous advocacy, promotional and educational efforts launched by businesses and non-governmental organizations.

“For a long time it’s been my passion and what I have been talking about continually–seeing renewable energy as a solution to our economic, environmental and national security problems,” said Rudnicki. “So when this position at MBA became available, it was a perfect fit.”

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