Change is in the Air

By Mike Bryan | October 06, 2009
There is no better time of year for change than the fall. Change, ironically, has been a reliable constant in the ethanol industry, as producers continue to improve their systems and rise to meet new challenges. This season looks to provide us with new opportunities to prove our adaptability.

The U.S. EPA is scheduled to make its final decision on how to enforce the renewable fuel standard, as established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (RFS2), by Dec. 1. I doubt the agency will issue a ruling by December, but I don't doubt that producers will once again meet and beat any challenges put forth by the ruling. And if more time is needed to fully consider the detrimental impact indirect land use change considerations could have on biofuels, I won't mind waiting. As Editor Kris Bevill reports on page 30, industry members filed comments with the EPA right up until the final hours of the commentary period stressing the importance of this issue as well as numerous others addressed in the RFS2 proposal.

In addition to the RFS2 rule, the EPA is also scheduled to determine by the end of this year whether a nationwide increase to E15 is allowable. While I'm always willing to confront change head-on, this kind of change is easy to embrace. The approval by the EPA to allow E15 will open many doors for struggling producers as well as for those anxious to get into the cellulosic game.

The addition of cellulosic biofuel into next year's RFS is sure to bring about big changes beginning this fall and leading into next year. As Editor Kris Bevill reports in her article, "Coming Up Short," the cellulosic community has been preparing for this for a long time. While many hurdles remain before cellulosic production is part of our mainstream fuel portfolio, make no mistakenext year will mark the beginning of the mass use of a variety of renewable transportation fuels in the U.S. Cellulosic producers know they cannot produce all of the biofuel called for in EISA's RFS for 2010, but that doesn't matter. Their place has been marked and will be held until they can meet it. As discussed in Bevill's article, very important changes will need to be made before 100 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel can be produced in a year, but there is no time like now to get started.

Finally, this issue includes our annual fall plant map. I was happy to see many of the plants that were shut down earlier this year have resumed operations, providing further proof that producers can adapt to changes and bounce back if given even the slightest opportunity to do so. Many of the problems experienced by the industry this year have not gone away; they've simply been made less significant by our adaptations. Naysayers argued that corn ethanol production would take away from the available food supply, so what did corn producers do? They harvested a bumper crop. Adversaries claimed that the ethanol production process was environmentally detrimental and unclean. In response, producers have taken measures to install combined heat and power systems and cutting-edge technologies to reduce the environmental impact of production. Will continued challenges and changes need to be met this fall and next year? Certainly. But our industry will forge ahead and set the standard for others to follow.

That's the way I see it.