FEW: Opening ceremonies show current/future optimism

By Luke Geiver | June 10, 2010
Posted June 14, 2010

Steamy St. Louis, Mo., air wasn't enough to keep more than 2,000 ethanol producers, exhibitors and sponsors from attending the largest ethanol event of the year, the 2010 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo (FEW). Industry leaders and young start-ups alike, stood amidst the media's flashing bulbs, as Mike Bryan, co-founder of BBI International, and Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, joined others to cut the official ribbon, opening the doors to the FEW Expo at America's Center. Bryan reminded the crowd of the conference's longevity and success, pointing out the FEW is in year 26.

Buis, speaking before the expo, opened about the role of ethanol for America's future. "This thing continues to grow. The industry continues to grow. We reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we improve the environment and create jobs right here at home."

Highlighting the evening was a short speech given by Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.). "America is at war," he told the large crowd surrounding the Growth Energy booth. He outlined the significance of America's dependence on foreign oil and its resulting consequences. In a tone that rose above the crowd and filled the entire exhibit hall, Clark said, "It's about oil. It's about the money from oil," to describe the reason we are at war. Clark also discussed what the industry needs in the near term. "We fought to get E10 moved to E15, and we have got to have that in this industry."

The topic of E15 lingered in the air after Clark's speech, as the opening night attendees mingled in the hall in a state best described by Poul Andersen, global director of Novozymes. "I think this conference is great in the sense that you can feel the good mood coming back to the industry," Andersen said. "Things are starting to come back and people are much more optimistic." With an exhibit featuring about two dozen representatives, all sporting neon green ties or scarves, the team from Novozymes was also there to work with other players, Andersen said. "Especially in cellulosic ethanol. The leading players have to come together and collaborate together."

Other companies newer to the industry such as American Yeast, formed just two months prior, are first time attendees at the FEW. Carl Gandolfo and Glenda Shank of the Memphis-based company said they are new, but excited to be at the conference. Some exhibitors chose to use expansive and detailed equipment such as working pumps or flat screen televisions, and others displayed simple brochures and informational packets. The range of attendees and exhibitors was large and varied, and even as the lights started to dim, signaling the end of the first night at the 2010 FEW, it appeared as though everyone had heard Andersen, as the large crowds co-mingled, talked and worked together. Eventually, the ushers had to re-announce that the night was over.

"Great wars aren't won in a single battle," Clark said. "No matter how this plays out, we are in this for the duration." With three full days scheduled of track specific presentations on everything from boardroom leadership to water usage, the FEW will not be short on top-notch, unrivaled information. And as far as the conference plays out, it appears that the opening showed that those in attendance are in it for the duration.