The energy behind ethanol

The March issue of EPM is now online, including stories about the LCFS, on-site energy options and research into mid-level ethanol blends, writes Tom Bryan, in his editor's note.
By Tom Bryan | February 18, 2016

The U.S. ethanol industry has, for years, viewed California as both a land of opportunity and a source of immense regulatory aggravation.While the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard has historically been a largely dubious prospect for ethanol producers, participating in the program, now, is a serious revenue play for many of them.

As we learn in “Meeting the California Low Carbon Challenge,” the LCFS is a performance-based regulation aimed at dramatically lowering the carbon intensity (CI) rating of transportation fuels used in the Golden State. Under the program, clean fuels earn credits that are ultimately worth money—sometimes 20 cents a gallon or more—which is captured by the companies that make and sell the fuel. As EPM Senior Staff Writer Susanne Retka Schill reports, the greenest grain ethanol plants in America, at least from CARB’s perspective, are those that sell wet and modified wet distillers grains locally. Other low-CI plants are hosting innovative technologies, utilizing waste streams and deploying advanced energy systems like landfill gas power, cogeneration and steam turbines.

In fact, steam turbines are the subject of our feature, “Powering Up By Letting Down,” also authored by Retka Schill. Many of these let-down, or back-pressure steam turbines, were installed in the ethanol industry over a decade ago. Now, interest in them is picking up once again as electricity rates—and concerns about grid reliability—have risen. Retka Schill reports that producers interested in turbines should plan ahead. For example, by installing a boiler with a higher-than-necessary capacity, a plant would have enough excess steam to power a turbine, should it want to, in the future.  

In “Nothing Wasted,” we introduce the still unfolding story of Ener-Core, a California-based company that’s scaling up a technology designed to enable industrial plants to convert poor-quality waste gases into high-quality heat and power. If everything goes as planned, Pacific Ethanol will install two of the systems at its Stockton, California, ethanol plant. It’s another great example of the ethanol industry’s predilection for efficiency.

Finally, our story, “E25, E40 for the Masses,” explores the benefits and barriers of bringing new ethanol blends to market. EPM Managing Editor Holly Jessen reports on how new research being conducted by consorting national labs might breathe new life into the idea of marketing ethanol blends like E25 and E40 as “renewable super premium” fuels. The labs’ researchers discovered that higher blends of this nature can achieve fuel-economy parity with E10 when used in engines optimized for them. Getting automakers on board would of course be challenging, but what about new ethanol blends isn’t? 

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief
tbryan@bbiinternational.com