Grain Expectations

The March issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine contains stories about corn, America’s principal fuel ethanol feedstock, and market signals for growing the sorghum supply, writes Tom Bryan, president and editor in chief of EPM.
By Tom Bryan | February 19, 2015

Our annual look at America’s principal fuel ethanol feedstock typically includes stories on crop science, yield, price trends and risk management.  We pivoted this year and took on several alternative editorial pursuits, including an ethanol plant corn quality survey and an update on the state of America’s No. 2 ethanol feedstock, grain sorghum.  

In an effort to better understand the condition of the current crop ethanol producers are processing, we sent a corn quality survey to the management of 109 U.S. facilities in January. While the data gleaned from this outreach gives us only an aggregate snapshot of the feedstock ethanol plants have recently received, it also provides insights into what ethanol plants do—and don’t—test for. Senior Editor Susanne Retka Schill reports that most respondents measure every incoming load of corn for test weight, moisture, damage and foreign material. Far fewer, however, measure every load for protein, oil, starch and toxins. The most progressive plants, we found, are testing composite loads for fiber, density, ash and more, hinting at a trend toward more comprehensive corn testing down the road.

In “Big Demand, Small Supply,” we find out that grain sorghum use by U.S. ethanol plants is down due to increased exports and tighter domestic supply. Still, several producers now using corn see milo as an ideal production feedstock. EPM Managing Editor Holly Jessen reports that each of California’s four ethanol plants are among U.S. producers interested in transitioning to sorghum, which is currently not grown in appreciable bushels in the Golden State. Both Pacific Ethanol Inc. plants, along with Calgren Renewable fuels LLC and Aemetis Advanced Fuels Keyes Inc., received grants from the California Energy Commission last year; a big aim of the funding is to grow milo in California and use it for in-state ethanol production.

Trekking off theme, another story focuses on ethanol plants with an eye on more gallons. In “Efficient Producers Up the Ante,” we dig into the U.S. EPA’s new requirements for ethanol producers seeking to increase the amount of renewable identification numbers (RINs) they’re allowed to generate. Retka Schill reports that the agency’s efficient producer petition process, or EP3, is superior to the original method of pathway approval for several reasons including simplicity. The process calculates a plant’s life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions based on four numbers: bushels of corn, gallons of ethanol, standard cubic feet of natural gas and kilowatt-hours of electricity. If a producer achieves a 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to baseline gasoline, it’s allowed to generate RINs above the volume grandfathered in under the renewable fuel standard. So far, nine producers have gone through the new process. More are sure to follow.  

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief