2010 FEW Preview

In June, the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo (FEW) returns to St. Louis, where its rich tradition of linking industry and innovation was born 26 years ago.
By Holly Jessen | April 15, 2010
As the ethanol industry shakes off 2009 and builds positive momentum in early 2010, enthusiasm is building. Existing producers are making money again, new products are springing back to life and registrations for the 26th annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo are up. By mid-March twice as many people had registered for the event as had at the same time last year. In fact, BBI International is conservatively estimating 2,500 attendees at this year's event, a 25 percent increase over 2009.

Wes Bolsen of Coskata, a speaker and past attendee, calls FEW one of the "must attend" events of the year. He highly recommends it to people because they can listen to leading industry experts as well as network with technology providers—all in one location. "There are a lot of conferences pulling on producers' and prospective producers' attention," Bolsen tells EPM. "This event allows all of the leaders in the industry to come together and truly move projects forward."

The FEW will be held June 14-17 at the America's Center Convention Center in downtown St. Louis, drawing people from more than 30 countries and from nearly every ethanol plant in the United States and Canada. Aside from a full agenda of speakers, FEW will benefit from the most-widely attended expo in the business—with about 350 FEW exhibitors expected this year.

FEW is, and always will be, a conference tailored for ethanol producers. Two free, full-access passes will be again given to every under construction and operating ethanol plant in North America, meaning hundreds of plant employees, executives and board members will be at the event.

This year's FEW will feature more than 120 speakers addressing topics attendees want and need to hear about. There's something to interest everyone, from speakers and panels looking at "the big picture" during the general session to the concurrent tracks grouped into five topics: production and operations, management and business, cellulosic ethanol, distillers grains and coproducts, plus energy, carbon and environment. A steering committee of nearly 40 industry professionals reviewed and rated hundreds of presentation abstracts, helping the EPM staff hone in on the most timely and relevant subject matter as the program was crafted. The result is one of the FEW's most diversified and useful programs to date. A sampling of some of the many program speakers follows:

Timely Topics
Britta Bergland, a senior analyst for Merjent, will speak about restarting a mothballed facility. After a difficult year for the biofuels industry, Merjent has been working with companies that shuttered their plants due to market conditions and now want to dust off the cobwebs and begin producing again, she says. Bergland will use her background in permitting and compliance to give listeners a checklist approach to environmental, health, safety and security issues that need to be addressed. Some plants are facing a steep learning curve as the employees who previously managed environmental compliance issues were laid off and moved on to other jobs, she says. Merjent has been working with companies on issues such as employee training or retraining and review and revision of written plans. Also, ethanol plants that have been idled must make the necessary start-up notifications to relevant regulatory agencies, she says.

Ethan Solomon, a research scientist at DuPont Biofuels, will tackle the topic of bacterial control. Present in all ethanol feedstocks, bacteria can make fermentation less profitable by competing with yeasts and producing ethanol-inhibiting acids. "Most ethanol plants experience bacterial contamination ‘upsets' a number of times per year," he says. Solomon's presentation will include case studies, the current science on bacteria, and the benefits and drawbacks to various strategies for controlling bacteria. "This session is a must for attendees who wish to maximize their ethanol yields and gain a better understanding of the origins and prevention of bacterial contamination," he says. "As ethanol yield and efficiency becomes the biggest differentiator between a plant that is operating profitably and one that is not, one of the most controllable factors impacting yield is bacterial contamination."

For those interested in coproducts, Michael Regier, technical director for Cereal Process Technologies, will talk about what he refers to as a "required mindset change to that of an agricultural processing plant, rather than only a fuel ethanol plant." A plant that adds fractionation can diversify its revenue streams into various markets. Because the process is flexible, he adds, an ethanol plant can take advantage of market fluctuations. Regier will also discuss using fractionation to reduce a plant's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With the requirements in the renewable fuel standard and California's low carbon fuel standard, this is a topic of utmost importance, he says. "I think fractionation is something all plants should focus on for its effect on ethanol plant efficiency, ability to generate new (more valuable) and more consistent coproducts, reduce water use, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Though corn-based ethanol production remains the focus of this year's event, cellulosic ethanol will be an important topic as well. Bolsen, chief marketing officer and vice president of government affairs for Coskata, will combine the two topics by speaking about co-locating cellulosic ethanol production with an existing corn ethanol plant. Creating a biorefinery will help ethanol plants reduce production costs, enable maximum efficiency and reduce GHG emissions. "The idea is not to replace or retrofit the existing asset, it is to utilize available synergies between the base level corn ethanol facility and a new cellulosic biorefinery," he says. Coskata has a process in which corn fiber, stover and cobs as well as other non-grain cellulose goes through a gasifier at the front end. That gasifier creates steam, which can replace a large portion of natural gas used at that plant. Coskota's process is efficient, affordable and flexible, Bolsen says. "We believe there is a lot of promise in making plants biorefineries and we are already seeing movement in that direction," he adds.

Speaker Cole Gustafson of North Dakota State University will share details on a collaboration with Green Vision Group and Heartland Renewable Energy that aims to establish five 20 MMgy biofuel plants in North Dakota. As the leading producer of sugar beets, the state is the perfect place for sugar beet-to-ethanol production, Gustafson says. An economic feasibility study put the cost per gallon at $1.57. "Sugar beets used for food consumption is a high-value crop," he says. "However, we are looking to develop energy beets that have different product characteristics. High grade sugar for crystallization is not needed for biofuel production." NDSU researchers have been studying energy beets to support development of the industry. Four years of energy beet trials show dry land beet yields average 30 tons per acre while irrigated beets approach 40 tons per acre. The university is currently planning a third study to evaluate storage and transportation of energy beets. "The project has a goal of extending beet juice shelf life so biofuel could be produced year around, unlike sugar beets for sugar which is highly seasonal," he says. "Extending the production season would more fully utilize fixed plant investment and lower final production costs."

Other Offerings
For the third year, the Advanced Biofuels Workshop will be co-located with FEW. For those interested in learning more about other emerging fuels—from biomass-based ethanol and biobutanol to biodiesel and green diesel—this is the place to be. The workshop starts June 14, the day before FEW kicks off. The event will include all the perks of a full conference with the convenience of a one-day workshop.
A tour of the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center, located just 20 miles from downtown St. Louis, is scheduled June 17, the last day of the event. NCERC has the only facility in the world with analytical and fermentation laboratories, a pilot plant and a workforce training program all in the same location, according to John Caupert, facility director. "The NCERC truly is unique in the fact that it is the one public entity in which academia, government, industry and trade associations all come together to facilitate commercialization of new biofuels technologies," he tells EPM. Some FEW attendees will remember touring NCERC during FEW 2007. However, Caupert points out that in the past three years there have been many changes to the facility. For example, at that time only about 10 ethanol plants were participants in the National DDGS Library. That number has grown to more than 120. Other additions include vent condensers on all fermenters, a state-of-the-art dry feed mixing system for coproduct studies and a distributed control system for data collection.

FEW also provides opportunities to network and renew relationships with friends and business associates. Those who enjoy doing so on a golf course should plan to come a day early for the annual golf tournament at Gateway National Course. For those not attending the Advanced Biofuels Workshop, golfing, or setting up an exhibit at the expo, FEW gets underway with a Monday evening expo grand opening and welcome reception.

This year's special event is a visit to Anheuser-Busch brewery for a casual and fun evening of exploration and networking June 16. Attendees can trace the origins of the company in both the Budweiser and Bud Light museums and visit the malt, hops and barley houses. The tour also offers a chance to sample more than 24 varieties of draught beer and take a picture with the famous Clydesdale horses at the Budweiser Clydesdale Stable. Space is limited to 750 guests, who must be registered FEW attendees.

In addition to workshops, tours and networking, FEW has taken a moment every year to recognize individuals. The Award of Excellence will be given to an industry professional who has made major technological or scientific contributions to the industry and the High Octane Award will be given to someone who has made a contribution to help the industry mature over the years. New this year is at least one academic scholarship, which will be presented in the name of Kathy Bryan, past president of BBI International, who succumbed to cancer last summer, just weeks after the 25th FEW.
For more information about FEW and the Advanced Biofuels Workshop, or to register, go to www.fuelethanolworkshop.com. EP

Holly Jessen is associate editor of Ethanol Producer Magazine. Reach her at (701) 738-4946 or hjessen@bbiinternational.com.