Pursuit of Higher Yield, Efficiency Drives FEW Participation Up

In early May, I was informed that registrations for the 2016 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo were on pace to match our seven-year high mark. This column is published in the June issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Tom Bryan | May 24, 2016

In early May, I was informed that registrations for the 2016 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo were on pace to match our seven-year high mark. If the trend continues, FEW attendance in Milwaukee will surpass every show after 2008. Six weeks out from the world’s largest ethanol conference, our registration tally was 25 percent above last year’s mark at the same time. Pleased but perplexed by the numbers, we huddled in the BBI board room to identify the cause of this fortuitous registrations spike. Ethanol production margins didn’t explain it. Could the proximity of Milwaukee to Chicago—the metro area’s population density—be driving registrations? Could it be our marketing? Our agenda? Our plant tour (thank you United Ethanol)? We weren’t sure. More people than usual were signing up for the FEW, but we didn’t know exactly why.

Then I read this issue of EPM, and I was reminded that there is not one, but many things that excite our industry and sustain our beloved 32-year-old conference. It dawned on me that FEW registrations are up, not because market conditions are perfect, but because they are imperfect. Slimmer margins require producers to focus on higher yields and improved efficiencies, and that’s what the FEW is all about.

Today’s margins are rather unexceptional, but many U.S. ethanol producers remain cash healthy and strongly interested in new technologies that improve yield and position them for next-generation products. In “Up On Output,” the freelance writer Holly Jessen describes the commercial successes of Fluid Quip Process Technologies and Ediniq Inc., which both have technologies that enable ethanol plants to convert more starch into ethanol and create second-generation biofuels or biochemical pathways. Several plants have already adopted each platform, and many more are interested.     

My theory about tighter margins spurring producer investment in efficiencies and yield-enhancing technologies finds more support in our feature by EPM Managing Editor Susanne Retka Schill. In “Advancing the Brewing Process,” Schill interviews yeast and enzyme companies—DuPont, Novozymes, DSM and Lallemand—posing questions about pivotal developments, drivers and challenges in their space.

Our cover story, “Women at the Top,”, introduces our readers to three exceptional women in ethanol plant leadership roles. Our own company, BBI International, was co-founded by the late Kathy Bryan—the FEW’s matriarch—and highlighting women in positions of leadership and management is near and dear to the owners and editors of this publication.

Speaking of family, my father, Mike Bryan, is featured in the June issue of EPM. Mike has been living in Australia for several years (although he’ll be in Minnesota for the summer). Our story, “From Up North to Down Under,” written by EPM editorial intern Kassidi Andres, is a catch-up on Mike and his budding feed import business. He’s introducing Australia to a distillers grains-based feed supplement made by SweetPro here in the U.S. Coincidentally, Mike and SweetPro owner Bob Thornberg managed neighboring ethanol plants in North Dakota about 30 years ago. 

Finally, check out the feature about the use of unmanned aerial systems in the ethanol industry. In “Flying High,” EPM Associate Editor Ann Bailey outlines some practical uses for UAS around ethanol plants. Bailey reports that UAS can be used to produce aerial spectral imagery, volumetric calculations, videos and more. As the UAS industry takes shape, it will be interesting to see how the biofuels industry benefits from it.

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief