Archive for July, 2012

“Adding Value To Ethanol Byproducts”

by John Davis, posted on

Researchers are looking for ways to get more value out of the byproducts of ethanol production, and thus, making the production of the green fuel more efficient and cost effective. During the recent Corn Utilization Technology Conference, USDA’s Kurt Spokas presented his ideas of getting more value out of those ethanol byproducts. He’s been working with the Minnesota Corn Growers on a project that converts distillers grains into various bio byproducts that are of higher value than the grains themselves.

“With the microwave-assisted pyrolysis, [we] convert very wet biomass over to an actual higher value product in both a bio-oil materials that have the building blocks for other uses, as well as a biochar, which we hope to actually utilize for sustaining our agricultural production,” he said. In the second year of this project, Spokas said it is going very well and is hoping to have field plots to see what larger scale impacts could be.

Spokas wants farmers to see all the different ways corn can be used… and what the future holds. “We thought we had a good picture of all the various products that were possible, but now we’re beginning to see that was only the beginning or the tip of the iceberg.”

Go to Domestic Fuels web page to listen to an interview with Kurt Spokas

Our Take:
The phenomenal success of ethanol is a model for ongoing action, and not simply a one-time achievement. The ethanol model of value-added agriculture offers a response to the ever-increasing yield of corn by channeling fractions of it into value-added uses.

The expanding portfolio of uses keeps the market for corn strong (so that farmers have the incentive they need to continue to grow more and more food) and incentivizes the scientific research that continues the positive trend line for corn production.

Not all uses are equal, but the judicious use of research funding for bio-oils and biochar is an all-around winner.



Ethanol Racer

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Stock car racer Greg Jensen believes in ethanol.

He races 30 or more nights a year in the US Racing Association stock car events at Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Lake, MN.

By profession, Jensen auctions farmland and farms in southern Minnesota and Iowa, and whenever he gets up in front of a group, he gives a sales pitch for ethanol because this high quality, homegrown, farm-based fuel is a win for farmers, a win for motorists and a win for the economy. Jensen has watched the power of ethanol bring about a renaissance in rural Minnesota and it’s made him a true believer.

A stock car racer for the past nine years, Jensen decided last year that he wanted his engine builder Kevin Stoa, KS Engineering, in Albert Lea to rebuild his fuel system to work with a high ethanol blend.

He has raced on a high ethanol blend this season and he hopes to win over other racers—a half dozen, including his team partner J.J Wise, plan to use the fuel next season.

Stoa, a champion stock car racer himself, has worked as an engine tuner and machinist for the likes of Dario Franchitti (this year’s Indy 500 winner) and Pablo Montoya and the Target team.

Stoa wasn’t interested in going into ethanol unless he could enlist the very best. He and Jensen agreed to hire Baker Carburetion in Mechnicsberg, PA to build a carburetor that would do a high ethanol blend justice. Then they tested the engine on a dynamometer on a range of ethanol blends from E30 upwards and found that E75 combined with 25 percent 114 octane racing gasoline outperformed straight 114 gas.

You can hear their story on the You Tube video Ethanol Racer:


Swedish buses run on E95

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

A growing number of buses in Sweden offer extremely low carbon emissions and cleaner air in Stockholm and other urban centers, thanks to the DC9-E02 engine from Scania Motors, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of trucks and buses for heavy transport applications, and of industrial and marine engines. The engine, based on diesel technology, runs on 95 percent corn-based ethanol.

Scania Engineer Andre Olson completed his Masters in Engineering degree at the University of Minnesota where he studied the use of alcohol fuel in diesel engines, a research project funded by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He now plays a key role on Scania’s E95 engine team.

 A Swedish fuel maker, SEKAB, produces the E95, from corn.

The E95 engine offers a number of advantages, according to Olson, including compliance with the latest carbon emissions rules from the European Union. The engine increases brake power and brake torque, and offers a higher compression ratio. Turbocharge technology allows the reduction of displaced volume, while maintaining the power needed for safe and convenient operation of city buses.

“On a performance basis, I would say that the ED95 engine is pretty much on the same level as an equivalent Scania diesel-fueled engine,” said Olson. “The peak thermal efficiencies are about the same. In Sweden there’s a strong interest in renewable energy, for environmental reasons and also because they want to minimize the oil dependence.”

Unfortunately, the engine maker has no current plans to market its ED95 engine in the United States. However, if the pendulum once again swings strongly in favor of energy independence through farm-based renewable energy–a concept pioneered by corn grower leaders in Minnesota–who can predict whether Scania might change its mind. After all, it looks like a perfect fit for the US Corn Belt–technology designed not just to accommodate ethanol fuel, but to capitalize on its unique and environmentally-friendly characteristics.

Policy Director Anna Bellin joins MCGA staff

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Fresh from experience at the capital in Saint Paul, Anna Bellin has joined the staff of Minnesota Corn Growers Association as its new policy director.

Bellin has spent the past ten years working at the Minnesota Legislature in a series of roles, most recently working for Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-District 52B). She began at the legislature at age 18 as a student intern while she studied political science at Bethel University in Saint Paul. After graduation in 2006, she worked for the Minnesota Republican Caucus.

“I understand government, and the legislative process,” said Bellin. “The reason I took this job is that there has never been more opportunity for agriculture than there is today and I want to help farmers make the most of that. I respect farmers, and I appreciate the importance of food production, so I’m looking forward to this role, helping our policy makers understand the challenges of farming today and the opportunities, and how government can interact with agriculture to maximize those opportunities.”

Bellin, who grew up in the suburbs notes that her grandfather was a dairy farmer.

“As time goes on, fewer Minnesotans feel directly connected to agriculture–I think that’s where the challenge comes from when it comes to developing agriculture policy, and I want to approach advocacy from that angle of reestablishing connections,” Bellin said.

The role of policy director doesn’t slow down when the Minnesota Legislature is in recess. Right away, Bellin has become involved in planning the activities of MCGA’s grower leaders during their upcoming trip to Washington, DC. In July the grower leaders attend Corn Congress, one of two annual gatherings of all the member states of National Corn Growers Association. Not only does this meeting focus on national policy direction, but taking advantage of its location in the nation’s capital, corn grower leaders meet with legislators and staffers to offer their thoughts about the Farm Bill and other proposed laws that will impact farmers.

And then in August, MCGA organizes and hosts the annual Minnesota Agricultural Leadership Conference, which draws together lawmakers, experts from agribusiness and academia and grower leaders representing producers of a spectrum of commodities.

“Taking all the good things agriculture is doing with conservation, water quality, air quality–and recognizing the role agriculture plays in a strong economy–as policy director I want to help the grower leaders communicate about this proactive approach their taking, so that lawmakers and policy makers can work together cooperatively and help farmers succeed. Ag is not a partisan issue. I have never seen it become partisan in my years at the capital, and the fact that it is not partisan makes for a good opportunity to build those bridges and help everyone understand how they are connected to agriculture.”