Archive for the ‘Ethanol’ Category

“E15 increases consumer choice”

By MCGA Agvocate Kevin Welter

July 18, 2008, for many of you this day does not have any significance. For me, this is a day that changed my life as I had previously known it. July 18th was the day I passed my driver’s test. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Holding the keys in my hand for the first time was the greatest feeling in the world, even if the keys were to an ’89 Chevy Cavalier. Looking back on that day I gained many of freedoms and expenses. The greatest expense was gas, which made me very interested in gas mileage.

In high school, I had the opportunity to be one of four students at my high school to help start the Supermilage Challenge at Stewartville. For those of you that are not familiar with the competition, a group of high school students build a one person vehicle from scratch to achieve the highest gas mileage. The first year we competed in the stock class where your vehicle runs on unleaded gasoline. Three of the four team members grew up in a farming background, which lead to our interest in renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The next two years we decided to compete in the E-85 class. Before officially switching classes, we did a lot of research on ethanol and the benefits it has not only for the environment, but also for the saving in consumers wallets. Many researchers agree that ethanol provides about thirty to sixty percent more energy than what is required to make a gallon of ethanol, meaning ethanol has a positive net energy. Compared to gasoline, ethanol reduces CO2 emissions.

One thing we had found from our experiences and research is that all engines can run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline. The tricky part is getting the correct blend for your engine. All passenger vehicles are approved to run up to a blend of 10% ethanol or E10. Over the past few years there has been a lot of research and tests conducted to find out which blend will perform well in vehicles currently on the road. The results of the research and tests caused the recent approval of the EPA for E15 in passenger vehicles 2001 and newer. In January 2011 about 60% of the vehicles driven in the US are 2001 and newer. With more than half of the vehicle on the road with the ability to run this blend of fuel you would think we would see an E15 option at every gas station. The issue is there are laws and regulations in 36 states that inhibit the sale of E15. These laws may take a while to be updated to include the demand for E15.

As a consumer, I hope in the future that more tests are conducted to check the performance of high blends of ethanol. In the future, I feel like there will be many different blend options available for consumers. The approval of E15 is a step in the right direction for consumer choice and for the growth of the domestic renewable energy industry. I currently drive a vehicle manufactured in 2006. Next time I fill up at a gas station with an E15 option, I will be choosing this higher blend of renewable energy.

Corn takes a star turn in high school student’s video, “Ethanol Rocks!”

Pleasant soundtrack music swells while the smooth camera motion takes the viewer through rows of corn, and allows the eye to follow the pleasing green lines of the stocks and abundant golden grain peeking out of the ears. Then we see the corn leaves waving gently in the breeze, silhouetted by bright sunshine. All the while a narrator gives a simple but convincing set of facts about ethanol.

This visual celebration of corn and ethanol comes to us through the very accomplished video production of high school senior Jason Girouard, of Brimfield, Massachusetts, the winner of the Ethanol Rocks video contest sponsored by National Corn Growers Association. Girouard received $1500 for his winning entry. Freshman Emily Yue from Gilford, Connecticut and senior Lewis Kloster of Minneapolis, Minnesota were both awarded second-place honor and $500 a piece.

Words and phrases like “corn can do so much” “renewable” “replaces millions of gallons of foreign imported oil” and “the highest performing fuel on the market” appear on the screen while the narrator extolls the usefulness of ethanol.

“The purpose of the contest was to get youth interested in learning about renewable fuel while having fun,” said NCGA Ethanol Committee Chair Chad Willis. “However, I think we may have turned a few of the more inquisitive kids into ethanol evangelists. The enthusiasm about their learning experience was the biggest payoff of the project.”

The top three videos can be viewed at

Autumn Appreciations

By MCGA Agvocate Michaela Bengtson

Being a college student, I sometimes get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the cities.  So for me, one of the greatest things is getting to go home on the weekends, back to the farm and enjoy the country lifestyle again.  As I was driving home this weekend, I was rolling past the golden fields and started to think about how corn is used every day by my family.

My first thought was about the fuel in my gas tank, which is ethanol.  Ethanol helps the world not only save on oil costs but it helps us use more renewable resources.  Another benefit of ethanol for my family is that it produces distillers grain.  One of the components of our dairy cow’s diets on the farm are distillers grain.  If it weren’t for ethanol, we wouldn’t have that feed source for my favorite cows!  Another benefit is that ethanol can help boost local economies and provide jobs.  In Atwater, an ethanol plant was built in 2005. It not only helped out farmers by providing a new market to keep prices competitive,  but it also gave farmers more confidence that there would always be a buyer for their grain. 

The second thing that I thought about was how corn helps out my mom.  In May, right after the corn planting was done, my mom had a stroke.  Currently, she is working on rehabilitation and gaining back the mobility in her right arm and leg.  One of the things that she sometimes feels is that her arm is tight.  At therapy they have a special machine to help with that tightening.  The main part of the machine is made of crushed corn cobs.  How the machine works is that a patient’s arm is put into a sleeve in the machine and a cuff is secured around their arm to ensure that the sleeve is snug. The machine is then turned on and starts to blow hot air into the crushed corn cobs, which heats them up to very hot temperatures.  The neat thing is that even though the temperature of the air is extremely high, because of the crushed corn cobs, the patient won’t get burned and it helps to loosen and relax their muscles.  It is amazing how something that might only be used for compost is used to help out so many people! 

As I roll past those golden fields, I am so thankful for everything that corn does.  From being a fuel source, to a feed source, to helping a farmer to have an income, to helping people recovering from illness, corn can do a-maize-ing things!

Minnesota: the bioeconomy’s “Get it Done, Make it Happen State”

What is in the water up in Minnesota? Partnership seems to have become part of a new hybrid DNA, the Digest discovers in its special report on the state’s progress in biobased fuels, chemicals and materials.

There seems to be some confusion at the state level as to exactly what Minnesota’s nickname is – official publications refer to “the North Star State” while the US Mint put “Land of 10,000 Lakes” on the back of the Minnesota commemorative quarter. Since alternatives seem to be generally acceptable, we propose the “Get it Done State” for your consideration.

You see, other states can match Minnesota for its wealth of agricultural and forest resources (though ample they are), or its foundational base in agriculture and energy (via giants like Cargill, CHS and EcoLab) and for its highly-trained workforce (though more skilled they rarely come). But for per-acre yields of moxie and gumption, it would be hard to find a match.

Get it Done, Make it Happen

Leadership seems to be available as a low-cost residue up there, we’ve not yet exactly figured out how or why. Want to push through the transformative Farm Bill through the 2008 House Agriculture Committee? Minnesota’s Collin Peterson took the reins. Help push through the Algae Biomass Organization from great idea to great organization? Minnesota’s Mary Rosenthal, Tom Byrne, and Todd Taylor have been amongst the drivers. Innovative leaders in first-gen fuels like Brain Kletscher at Highwater Ethanol and Steve Christensen at Granite Falls Energy. Academic leaders such as Brendan Jordan, Director of Bioenergy at the Great Plains Institute, and legendary UMinn chemical engineer Lanny Schmidt; innovative venture capitalists like First Green’s Doug Cameron and Tom Erickson; perceptive analysts like Piper Jaffray’s Mike Cox and Mike Ritzenthaler; Luca Zullo, whose VerdeNero consultancy was on the of the first to focus on opportunities in green-black technologies. Just to name a small handful.

See the rest of the article at:

Our Take:
Minnesota’s step-ahead position in the development of renewable energy started with our corn farmers, who believed that we could source our transportation energy in the Midwest instead of the Mideast.

This article is a great tally of all the impressive vanguard efforts rolling out here in Minnesota.

The one miss is to take as accurate recent newspaper reporting on the state of the Minnesota’s corn ethanol industry. Yes, the industry has hit a speed bump with the narrowed margin, but there is unsuspected strength in the farmer-owned LLC ethanol companies (which are not under obligation to publicly report their financials). These companies benefit from not only good timing but also a conservative ethic that favored reducing debt load over increasing profit sharing. Volatility in all energy markets will continue, but these companies will be able to weather the storms.

And the imminent birth of advanced biofuels and biorefinery products will take place among these farmer-based companies as much as any other participants in renewable energy production today.

Yes, Minnesota is a center for innovation. But don’t count the farmers out—they are right in the center of that pioneering spirit.

Growers make the case for passing a new farm bill, and keeping RFS

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

NCGA Corn Congress, held in Washington DC in July each year, is always an occasion for Minnesota growers to meet legislators and continue the conversation about what will help midwestern farmers keep the American system of raising food the envy of the world: an overwhelmingly safe supply of food available in every region at reasonable prices.

The two political issues that will impact U.S. food production the most in 2012 are a successful conclusion to the drive to pass a Farm Bill, and one of the chief agenda items for corn growers and ethanol producers–keeping the Renewable Fuels Standard intact, and allowing its built-in mechanisms to deal with issues of grain supply.

The 17 Minnesota growers met with the entire Minnesota delegate to Congress, as well as many members of the House Agriculture Committee.

“We told congress members we need to keep the RFS intact, let it work, it’s got provisions designed to handle scenarios like this,” said John Mages, a corn producer in Belgrade, Minnesota, and president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “RFS demands that so much ethanol be used each year. It’s important to remember that, at the beginning of the year, there was a lot of ethanol in surplus, also there is a credit called RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) that the fuel blenders can use in the place of actual ethanol. Between those things we may be able to meet all the market demand. It’s important also to wait and see exactly how much corn we produce before the government resorts to drastic changes. One message we’ve been bringing to lawmakers is that once there’s a cut back on the mandate, it will be very hard to get back what’s been given it up. So we want to keep it going.”

Among those new to the process of visiting congress people in Washington and carrying the farmer message, were MCGA director Les Anderson and Anna Bellin, MCGA’s new policy director.

“Our message was straightforward,” said Bellin. “We want to get it done. Don’t mess with the RFS, because the market is working. It is easy to blame ethanol for the problems being caused by the drought, but we should be careful not to take apart energy policy that’s just beginning to deliver energy independence–let’s see what the actual corn production is.”

The grower leaders found the lawmakers receptive and supportive of the idea of getting a farm bill passed this year. The Senate has passed a version and now it is up to the House of Representatives.

The whole thing gets tied up in election year politics,” said Bellin. “Members of the ag committee were generally supportive of getting it done, but it comes down to being a leadership decision. A large part of the farm bill is nutrition program spending and that’s getting all tied up in debates about budget cutting.”

Whatever else gets done regarding farm policy, it appears likely that some kind of disaster program for livestock producers will pass, either as part of a regular farm bill, or failing that, as a stand alone extension.

But the farm program is an essential element — without it, farmers cannot plan for the coming crop year.

“Without a farm bill in place I don’t know a single banker that would make a loan to a farmer,” said Lori Feltis, a producer in Stewartville and a representative to the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

However, success will require an eye to timing.

“It was our effort during our Washington visit to put as much pressure on the House to get it done as we could,” Bellin said. “Congressman Collin Peterson has been extremely supportive of getting it done. He is doing whatever he can to get it across the finish line and we really appreciate it. It’s our intent to keep the pressure on, but there’s also a delicate balance–while we are trying to get it done as quickly as possible, we also want to make sure the votes are there when it comes to a vote.”

MCGA helps race fans connect with ethanol

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

MCGA staged four “Jam The Stands” events at stock car races across Minnesota during the last week of July, to reach race fans with a message about the positive impact of ethanol fuel on the economy and the environment in Minnesota.

With “Jam The Stands,” MCGA bought the entire grandstand section and offered free admission for the evening at each of the four tracks: KRA Speedway in Willmar, Fiesta City Speedway in Montevideo, Madison Speedway and Viking Speedway in Alexandria.

“Each of the races had about double the usual attendance,” said Chad Willis, a farmer in Willmar and past chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

In return for bringing in the big audience, MCGA had the chance to deliver the facts about ethanol. The track announcers played trivia games with the crowd. Volunteers from the local corn grower groups sold specially made t-shirts with “Jam The Stands” logos. 

Among the trivia and “did you know” questions, the audience learned that ethanol reduced gasoline prices an average of $1.09 per gallon in 2011 in the Midwest (source: Iowa State University study) and that ethanol plants directly provide high wage jobs for 8500 people in small towns across Minnesota. They also learned that corn is Minnesota’s largest crop at 1.2 billion bushels, and 95 percent of the farms that produce it are family farms.

“As a marketer you want people in the stands and ‘Jam The Stands’ definitely did it,” said Willis. “You get the message out, engaging the crowd before and between the races, and you get a chance to talk about the benefits of ethanol to Minnesota and the nation. It’s very effective. We had lots of people coming up to us and thanking the corn growers for the free admission. There were lots of families. With these events, from the track’s point of view, you want to create new race fans. The fact that so many kids come with their families helps the tracks build their future audience.”

The t-shirts have been a popular item since MCGA began sponsoring the ‘Governor’s Ethanol Challenge.’ Shirts from the previous seven years were visible throughout the stands at all four race evenings. This is the first year of the new marketing concept, Jam The Stands. The bright green shirts with orange highlights offered the message: “Jam The Stands: From Field To Fuel.” The back of the shirt showed race cars with numbers 20 and 12, to show the current year.

“Seeing all the previous years’ shirts and all the Jam The Stands shirts out in the crowd you can instantly see that the shirts are an ongoing message, which makes them a super marketing tool.”


As Drought Kills Corn, Farmers Fight Over Ethanol

(a story on North Country Public radio, reprinted at )

Recently, a coalition of groups representing America’s livestock and chicken farmers delivered an angry attack on the “Renewable Fuel Standard,” which requires gasoline companies to buy a minimum amount of ethanol — 13 billion gallons this year — and blend it into gasoline supplies. The groups released a new study that argues that this ethanol mandate does very little good: It increases the cost of gasoline and makes the country no less dependent on energy imports.

Even worse, the meat producers say, it creates unfair competition for corn. The mandate forces gasoline companies to buy billions of gallons of ethanol that they don’t even want, driving corn prices through the ceiling and potentially forcing livestock producers into bankruptcy.

Our Take:
Let’s turn the situation around. How would livestock producers react if another industry told them who they could sell their product to and who they couldn’t? They’d say, you are standing in the way of out livelihood and making it impossible for us to sustain ourselves economically.

There is no money for government handouts anymore.

If the livestock industry succeeds in sinking RFS and the ethanol industry, farmers won’t raise corn. Period. Because $2 corn, with no government support, is an impossibility.

The same small towns that livestock farmers share with crop farmers will dry up and blow away and we will be buying our food from Chile and Russia. That is, if we can afford to import food. Through the recession, agriculture was a major engine for economic stability.

Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Research and Development has had something to say about the question of gas prices. The idea that replacing ten percent of the gasoline market with biofuels has no impact on prices (or that it increases gas prices) is pure hog wash. Or maybe it’s chicken feathers—since the National Chicken Council states that biofuels did not reduce our dependence on foreign oil despite the fact that we now import 49 percent of our energy compared to 60 percent before the rise of the ethanol industry. Yes, many people are driving less or driving more efficient vehicles, but studies show at least half of that reduction in energy imports comes from ethanol use.

The livestock industry knows all this. And when it isn’t under pressure from a temporary price rise, they remember it. In the end, they will get the feed they need. Perhaps this won’t be without pain, and perhaps some producers may exit the business, but livestock production as a whole will continue to thrive as long as there is strong pipeline of crop production to feed their animals. Ethanol is part of what makes that happen because it’s a part of a strong crop production industry.