FEW Technical Sessions Planner

With the world’s largest ethanol conference rescheduled from mid-May to late August, the industry prepares to move 'onward in Omaha,' and BBI International provides an early look at the 2020 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo breakout panels.
By EPM Staff | April 29, 2020

As BBI International, the parent company of Ethanol Producer Magazine, collected and reviewed abstracts for the 2020 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, low carbon was the standout topic. Weeks later, as the agenda was built, those plants focused on low carbon had switched gears and were donating or selling alcohol to make hand sanitizer in the middle of a pandemic.

Everything changed, and as millions of Americans sheltered in place to “slow the spread” in late March, it became increasingly evident that holding the FEW in June, as originally planned, was neither practical or prudent. In late April, working closely with its sponsors, exhibitors and speakers, BBI announced that the date and location of the 2020 FEW had been changed to August 24-26 in Omaha, Nebraska. “The show will go on,” says Tom Bryan, president of BBI. “The industry has resoundingly told us they want ethanol’s flagship summer conference to happen—they’re counting on it—and we will move onward in Omaha.”

Bryan says the FEW agenda, already complete, includes an unprecedented cache of content—more than 150 presentations—reflecting the industry’s untiring interest in new technologies, solutions and services that will boost plant efficiencies in this low-margin environment. “We know it’s hard for producers to talk about operational efficiency when some are fighting to make payroll, but the FEW and everything it represents—the search for solutions, for innovation, the quest—will continue when our industry rises up and comes together in late August.”  

Again, the agenda is full, with experts in their fields ready to share their insights and information, and the overwhelming number of abstracts submitted on low-carbon topics warranted a day-long workshop. The Low Carbon Fuel Production Workshop will be held alongside the traditional Ethanol 101 preconference, and the new Biofuels Environmental, Health & Safety Forum on Monday, June 15. Along with two new preconferences this year, FEW also introduces its partner event: The Biodiesel Production Technology Summit. Sessions in the summit will run concurrent with FEW sessions.

FEW again takes a thorough look at the ethanol process, with emphasis on the most crucial aspects.
“Building the FEW agenda is an annual reminder that an attention to the fundamentals of fermentation are the beating heart of this industry,” says Tim Portz, program developer for BBI. “Our agenda is dotted with panels about yeast strains, yeast health, optimizing fermentation conditions and driving down the risk of bacterial infection. While the topics have been a part of the FEW for years, seeing the yearly innovation within those topical areas is so impressive. We’re thrilled to feature those presentations and discussions at the FEW.”

By EPM Staff
Photos: BBI International / Kirsten Wray Photography

Tuesday, Aug. 25
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

Reviewing the Ongoing Effort to Develop Yeast Strains that Increase Yield while Reducing Overall Operational Expenses
Plant operational teams spend considerable time, energy and money limiting or eliminating threats and impediments to yeast populations or their overall productivity. Conventional yeast strains are sensitive to variances in temperatures and organic acids, and producers are keen to find new strains more suited to withstand the conditions that come along with commercial-scale ethanol production. This panel showcases advances in yeast strains that exhibit not only the robustness producers have been longing for, but also offer an opportunity at greater yield while reducing overall fermentation expenses.

A Framework for Producers Working to Prioritize Long-Term Production Goals and Deploy Their Capital Accordingly
Ethanol plant management teams know that regular capital investment in their operation is vital to keep pace with an evolving industry. While management teams understand that sound technology investments are the best way to unlock new revenue streams, the right way to navigate the decision-making process about which investments to make is less clear. This discussion will offer producers guidance on how to best build financial models that offer a clear picture of the relative risk of a project, the new revenues that can be anticipated and the sensitivity of the investment to a broad range of input costs and marketplace scenarios.

Production Approaches Available to Operational Teams Looking to Liberate Inbound Protein to Capture Its Full Value
In the industry’s ongoing effort to capture as much value from inbound corn as possible, technology developers have turned their focus to increasing protein concentrations in plant DDGS streams. The presentations in this panel will bring attendees up to speed on the separation approaches being considered and deployed in the ethanol sector today. The panel will highlight the leading separation technologies while also looking at how to best predict protein capture rates, the overall impact of protein separation to a plant’s overall coproduct portfolio and some thoughts from nutritionists on realizing the full potential of this high-value feed product.

A Clean Fuels Policy for the Midwest   
This panel will assert that low-carbon fuel policy need not be only the domain of distant coastal fuel markets. Why shouldn’t states rich in ethanol production lead the way in developing policies that reward the low-carbon aspects of the fuels produced within their own boundaries? Built on the foundation of an early 2020 white paper, this discussion will outline for attendees the practical aspects of deploying such a policy as well as the overall impact on biofuel demand should it find traction in ethanol- and biodiesel-producing states.

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Our Happy Home: The Rewards of Optimizing Fermentation Conditions to Guarantee the Health and Vitality of Plant Yeast Populations
All ethanol production hinges on yeast populations surviving and thriving in a fermentation environment beset with conditions not optimal for propagation, health or productivity. Working to help producers maximize yield, biotechnology providers have focused their innovation into two main areas. The first is to develop yeast strains more tolerant of the harsh conditions of industrial ethanol production, while the second focuses on boosting the chances of the current suite of available yeasts by focusing on nutrients and the timing of propagation cycles. This panel makes room for each and will offer attendees a chance to ask if their current fermentation strategy is making the most of the advancements and innovation available to them.

Before the Flood: Deploying Common Sense Maintenance Protocols Now to Reduce the Risk and Cost of an Unplanned Outage
Plant management teams know that the working components of their facilities have a life span and will eventually need to be replaced. The art for maintenance teams is moving from a reactive to a proactive posture in their replacement and repair protocols. This discussion will focus on both disciplines and technologies available to producers hungry to move toward predictive maintenance. Presentations will feature not only technologies like conductivity and vibration sensing, but also a discussion about the value of more thorough and regular visual inspections of plant energy centers.

A Comprehensive Look at Risk Management for Ethanol Producers in the Context of an Increasingly Turbulent Marketplace and Policy Environment
Plant leadership teams understand that while their priority is managing risks at the plant level, they cannot afford nor avoid considering the risks facing the industry at large. This panel begins with two presentations aimed at helping producers do what they can to limit their risk exposure at the plant level before pulling back to offer a broader look at the industry and the policy and marketplace risks facing the sector. Management teams will appreciate this opportunity to consider their plant’s risk management posture in the context of an honest assessment of the overall health of the industry.

TRACK 4: Infrastructure and Market Development
Anticipating and Eliminating the Drag that Fuel and Coproduct Specifications Can Have on Efforts to Open New Ethanol and Distiller’s Grains Markets
Most industry professionals have long ago forgotten the painstaking state-by-state regulatory work to get ethanol approved for inclusion in gasoline blends. Thankfully, those lessons remain in the minds of the professionals who did the work and are being brought to bear on the effort to open new foreign markets. This panel will remind attendees of the critical importance of anticipating and overcoming fuel specification bottlenecks to fully access promising foreign markets. Attention will also be paid to new feed markets and their attendant specification requirements.

Wednesday, Aug. 26
8:30 am – 10:00 am

Deploying Best-in-Class Analytical Methods to Optimize Fermentation, Control Infection and Increase Overall Ethanol Production
Ethanol producers know that the financial success of their operations correlates tightly to their ability to maximize yield one fermentation at a time. Maximizing yield requires close observation and analysis of each fermentation so, should conditions begin to stray from optimal, producers can intervene and mitigate disruptions before they can impact yield. The challenge for ethanol producers has always been the quality of information they can gather and the speed by which it can be obtained. The presentations in this panel highlight the leading approaches that allow lab personnel to gain a better understanding of the upsets facing their fermentation in a more timely fashion, enabling them to take meaningful corrective action and preserve yield. 

The Technologies Available to Producers Today Looking to Manufacture Higher-Value Fuel and Chemical Products
The impulse to diversify primary and coproduct streams was strong before a prolonged trade war with China tamped down global ethanol demand. Now, as producers face unprecedented uncertainty in demand for their traditional product offering, producers are hungry for an opportunity to access alternative markets, shoring up plant balance sheets with new revenue streams. The presentations in this panel showcase the technologies currently available to producers hoping to break out of the ethanol/DDGS box and redirect a portion of their output to new industrial chemical and feed markets.

TRACK 3: Coproducts and Product Diversification
The Technologies Available to Ethanol Producers Looking to Broaden Their Coproduct Portfolio and Derive Increased Revenues from It
Ethanol producers and technology providers alike know there remains unrealized value within plant coproduct streams. Presenters in this panel bring that notion into sharp focus, sharing the leading pathways available to producers eager to innovate within their coproduct offering. Rather than settle for business-as-usual coproduct strategy, these presentations will get producers thinking about producing more specialized feed products that could garner higher prices from feed markets typically closed to traditional DDGS volumes.

10:30 am – Noon

Assessing the Control Options Available to Ethanol Producers in Their Never-Ending War Against Bacterial Infection
Protecting an ethanol plant from bacterial infection has always required continuous attention from producers. Fortunately, they’ve been supported by nearly continuous innovation around optimized control strategies. This panel will serve as a showcase of the ongoing effort to design, test and deploy effective control measures for commercial-scale ethanol production. Presentations cover a range of topics including the importance of designing solutions specific to the problematic microorganism populations, the use of hops to control infection and focusing cleaning efforts on the areas most conducive to bacterial outbreaks.  
How Effective Dehydration and Water Treatment Strategies Can Drive Down Operational Expenses, Improve Carbon Intensity Scores and Increase Plant Throughput
Effectively managing water usage is a herculean task for plant production teams. It requires massive amounts of energy to heat, move, treat, separate from ethanol, cool and return to the process or discharge. The good news for producers is the economic value for technologies that increase the efficiency of any of these process steps continues to spur incredible innovation. This panel features innovation in water management from dehydration all the way through wastewater treatment, providing producers with different pathways to drive down the overall cost of their operations’ water programs.

Building a Results-Oriented Plant Culture that Inspires Your Team, Increases Production and Reduces Costly Employee Turnover
While plant leadership teams have no trouble imagining the impact a fully invested, excited and empowered team could have on their operation, intentionally building such a culture has proven more difficult. This panel promises to push past the leadership clichés and offer producers real strategies they can begin deploying today to inspire their people and align their team with the operational and financial goals established for the plant by its board of directors.

1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

Capturing and Bringing Abundant Operational Data to Bear on Your Plant’s Overall Operational Strategy
If operational data is captured but never informs future production iterations, was it worth capturing in the first place? This panel will help producers move beyond data collection to informed action. Buoyed by presentations rooted in mining data to optimize process efficiency, the panel will also make room for presentations that focus on ensuring the data plant teams gather is accurate and reliable, as well as the growing potential of artificial intelligence in ethanol production. Panelists will make the case that the plants achieving the highest yields tomorrow will be those who make a commitment to data-based operational decision-making today. 

Minding the Tight Correlation Between Plant Cleanliness, Plant Efficiency and Ethanol Yield
Curbing bacterial contamination events may be the most obvious motivation behind robust plant cleaning programs, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Biofilms and mineral deposit impede cooling capacity, slow beer feed rates and significantly reduce the expected lifespan of expensive components. Not surprisingly then, effective plant cleaning has become an art and this panel features providers who continue to push toward more cost-effective cleaning approaches and protocol. Ethanol producers can expect to hear about the enhancements and refinements ready to be deployed into their cleaning programs, packed with data about the efficacy of these novel approaches and the demonstrated financial impact of their recent deployments.

Position-Specific Training Approaches to Increase Employee Effectiveness Across Your Operation
The presentations in this panel assert that targeted, job-specific training can simultaneously increase the value that staff add to a plant while also creating a more meaningful and valuable work experience for the employees. Presentations range from the ways training can fill very specific skill gaps all the way to the importance of lab personnel understanding how their daily tasks inform and impact the production efforts of the whole plant. Together, these presentations will make it clear that best-in-class training simultaneously benefits both the plant and its employees.

Rebooting the Industry’s Vision on the Opportunities for Coproducts within Global Food and Feed Markets
As the ethanol industry scaled, having a relatively limited market for its feed coproduct didn’t do much to limit industry growth. DDGS volumes found their way into ruminant rations and producers were satisfied with the revenue streams the beef and dairy markets offered. Now that the industry has reached maturity, the need to diversify and capture even more value from coproduct streams is paramount. The presentations in this panel will underscore the importance of developing new feed products for different markets, getting them tested and validated and jump-starting their regular inclusion in feeding regimens in swine, poultry and fish markets.

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Back to the Basics: Why Profitability Ultimately Hinges on a Plant’s Ability to Maximize Starch Conversion Via Efficient Fermentation
This back-to-the-basics panel will take an in-depth look at the critical importance of bringing high-quality starch into a plant and making as much of it available for fermentation as possible. The panel will begin by looking closely at inbound grain quality and how that reverberates through the entire production cycle. The conversation then pivots to strategies for maximizing starch availability for fermentation via improved solubilization before concluding the discussion with a presentation on a new approach of predicting ethanol yield, fermentor by fermentor. 

Management Strategies Aimed at Efficiently Aligning Team Member Skills with Operational Needs
To fully capture the potential of each plant employee, management teams must do their part to ensure they are both competent and empowered; having one without the other diminishes the potential value of each team member. This panel will ask plant management teams to consider not only how they deliver timely and regular skills training, but also if their operation cultivates a workplace culture that rewards employees willing and able to raise their performance and do their part to drive toward ambitious plant goals.

Track 3: Coproducts and Product Diversification 
Available Biological and Technological Pathways to Increased Corn Oil, Protein and Fiber Capture
The rise and proliferation of corn oil capture from plant distillers grains streams changed forever coproduct strategies for ethanol plant teams. What was once viewed as a singular feed product for a limited market is now viewed as an amalgam of individual components that would likely carry more value if they could be isolated and captured. The presentations in this panel focus on the technologies available to producers to better isolate and capture greater quantities of corn oil and protein, while also showcasing a biological pathway to increased ethanol volumes via cellulose liberated from corn kernel fiber.