Grit and Gratitude

Ethanol Producer Magazine's publisher previews the features in the July issue of the magazine, including the 2020 Ethanol Producer Awards, high-protein coproducts, the downturn's impact on risk management, managing poor quality feedstock and more.
By Tom Bryan | July 14, 2020


Giving out awards is a pleasure. Our trade associations do it often and well, and Ethanol Producer Magazine, too, has a rich history of announcing accolades during our industry’s big summer event—the FEW. It’s one of the best parts of my job, but I had concerns about doing it this year. I worried that our award recipients might be too worn down by the pandemic—and too busy climbing out of it—to care about the recognition of a trade journal.

I’m glad I was wrong. Even while recovering from the worst downturn in our industry’s history, the winners of our 2020 Ethanol Producer Awards found the time, and grace, to talk to us. And while only one of the awards was directly tied to actions taken during the crisis, each recipient shared candid information—on and off the record—about the realities of producing ethanol during COVID-19. Each of our five unassuming winners—Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy LLC; Marquis Energy-Wisconsin; Ace Ethanol LLC; Trenton Agri Products LLC; and the Element LLC partnership formed by ICM Inc. and The Andersons—share the story behind their accomplishments, starting with our Board of the Year, on page 20.  

A couple of those Ethanol Producer Awards are connected to technologies that result in higher-protein coproducts, which may someday supplant ethanol as our industry’s principal sell. As Lisa Gibson reports in “Masters of the Market,” on page 38, high-protein technologies are substantively altering the ethanol industry’s feed coproduct stream. And managing this opportunity will require ethanol plants to not just change their processes, but their business models.   

Market transformation of a different kind is the subject of our page-46 feature, “Doubling for Diesel,” by Matt Thompson. In this story, we share the disruptive proposition of ClearFlame Engines, which is developing a novel technology that could make it possible for ethanol to be used in compression-ignition engines, potentially opening up a market as big and promising as E15.

As the industry begins its long march toward normalcy, it’s once again readjusting the way it manages risk, in terms of both commodities hedging and capital management. In “Risk Reoriented,” on page 54, Luke Geiver explores the industry’s current understanding of “normal” margins as it nestles into more forward-looking risk programs and measured growth investment.   

Finally, in “Quality Unconcern,” on page 62, Sue Retka Schill reports that U.S. ethanol plants have been largely unaffected by the poor-quality corn harvested sporadically from late 2019 to early 2020. Many ethanol plants have reported weak and damaged corn arriving at their gates, but most have still achieved adequate production yields in spite of it. It’s unexpected good news, and we’ll take it.

Tom Bryan
BBI International