2010 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo An Upbeat St. Louis

The ethanol industry has toughed it out, things are looking better, and the mood was noticeably upbeat at the 26th annual FEW. A positive buzz permeated the event.
By Luke Geiver, Holly Jessen and Susanne Retka Schill | July 15, 2010
For three days, St. Louis America's Center, site of the 2010 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, was a noisy, busy place as more than 2,000 attendees from 46 states, the District of Columbia and 25 nations, bustled between breakout sessions and the expo, learning about the latest developments in the ethanol industry from presenters and exhibitors. "I think this conference is great in the sense that you can feel the good mood coming back to the industry," said Poul Andersen, global director of Novozymes, following the ribbon cutting ceremony that kicked off the FEW. "Things are starting to come back and people are much more optimistic."

International visitor Guillermo Parra Romero, with Paraguay ethanol producer Petropar, considers FEW to be the most important ethanol event of the year. Petropar owns the largest ethanol plant in Paraguay, producing 40 MMly (10.5 MMgy) of anhydrous ethanol. In all, the country produces 120 MMly of ethanol primarily from sugarcane, with 20 percent coming from corn. He comes to the FEW to network and learn about U.S. market trends and commercialization, he said. "For me, it is important to get in contact with the American ethanol fuel industry."

BBI International chairman Mike Bryan cited the FEW's longevity and success as he introduced the leadership of Growth Energy who helped with the official ribbon cutting ceremony that launched the 26th annual FEW conference, reception and expo. Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis seconded Bryan in his remarks. "This 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," he said. Speaking later in the expo, Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy, described the industry's long-term outlook. "Great wars aren't won in a single battle," he said. "We are in this for the duration." Clark outlined a theme that echoed throughout the conference, as speaker after speaker referred to the Gulf oil spill. "It's about oil," he said about the need for ethanol production and the reason behind America's presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It's about the money from oil."

During the general session the following day, Bryan and Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, amplified the oil theme. "After all the saber rattling and desk pounding happening over this oil spill is over, we will recover," Bryan said. "What's most important is to learn from this event. We need to maximize our domestic oil production and maximize our alternative energy production, from all sources." Delivering the keynote address, Dinneen told the audience that now is the time to break our dependence on foreign oil, adding, "Now, no one in this room is nave enough to believe that America is going to stop using oil today, tomorrow, or in the near future. But that should not deter us from aggressively proceeding with efforts to develop and deploy the wide range of ethanol technologies you in this room are developing." Dinneen went on to summarize a number of the policy initiatives and issues facing the ethanol industry.

With the industry facing new greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets in the renewable fuels standard, the first panel session of the event discussed corn ethanol's improving carbon score. Steffen Mueller, research economist at the University of Illinois-Chicago, related the results of a survey of ethanol producers showing marked improvement in efficiency of ethanol yield, water use and power use over the past decade. Charles Hurburgh, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, noted that the expected corn yield improvement of 4 to 6 percent per year over the next decade will result in 350 to 500 million more bushels of corn each year. There is plenty of corn to meet the needs of the various users, he said, and with the corn utilization in traditional markets remaining relatively flat, ethanol use of corn actually needs to expand to absorb the increase.

Pete Moss, vice president of marketing for Cereal Process Technologies, discussed some of the challenges that will be faced by grandfathered ethanol plants wanting to increase production levels. Every new gallon brought online after the passage of the 2007 Energy Security and Independence Act that revised the renewable fuels standard must meet a 20 percent GHG reduction threshold if it is to receive a renewable identification number (RIN). To achieve that, ethanol producers are going to have to select one or two of the technologies that significantly improve corn ethanol's carbon footprint, such as fractionation, deoiling, combined heat and power (CHP), membrane separation, raw starch hydrolysis, and wet distillers grains. Raising the question of whether corn ethanol could ever reach a 50 percent GHG reduction and qualify as an advanced biofuel, Moss pointed out that EPA calculations show a dry grind, natural gas-powered plant that utilizes CHP, fractionation, membrane separation and raw starch hydrolysis for wet distillers grains would only make a 36 percent reduction in life-cycle GHG emissions. A dry grind biomass-powered plant utilizing the same technologies would bump that number up to 46 percent, still short of the 50 percent goal. Moss suggested corn-ethanol plants that add fractionation and deoiling technologies should receive GHG credit for the additional coproducts. A modification in the use of indirect land use impacts on GHG will ultimately be needed to improve corn ethanol's GHG reduction score, although the biggest challenge is that EISA excluded corn-starch-based ethanol production from qualifying as an advanced biofuel.

The potential for industrial symbiosis was covered in the second panel of the morning. Niels Henricksen, CEO of Denmark-based Inbicon, described the synergies achieved at Kalundborg, Denmark, where Inbicon's demonstration cellulosic ethanol plant came online in late 2009. Nine organizations at the industrial site have more than 30 agreements in place exchanging energy and recycling water and waste products among a power plant, oil refinery, enzyme manufacturer, wastewater treatment facility, Inbicon and others. In the U.S., three projects are developing similar symbiotic relationships. Sandra Broekema, manager of business development for Great River Energy, described the existing synergies experienced by the co-location of Blue Flint Ethanol with the company's western North Dakota Coal Creek Station power plant. GRE is now building a 62-megawatt combined heat-and-power plant at Spiritwood, N.D., that will meet the steam requirements of the Cargill Malt plant next door and is seeking partners in a proposed 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant.

John Gell described Genessee Regional Biofuels' proposal to locate a 20 MMgy woody biomass-based cellulosic ethanol plant in the Eastman Business Park in Rochester, N.Y. In addition to water, power and steam, and good transportation logistics, the long-time chemical production site has "public support for development," Gell said. A brownfield site at Alton, Ill., is being proposed as the location for an ethanol project involving a dry mill corn ethanol plant using cutting edge technologies integrated with an Inbicon biorefinery using lignin pellets and municipal solid waste for both cellulosic ethanol power and steam, according to Peter Bendorf, Integro Services Group.

In the panel presentations that followed the morning session, numerous other companies, technologies and research were covered in greater detail, challenging FEW attendees to chose among one of five concurrent tracks covering topics in production/operations, management/business, cellulosic ethanol, distillers grains/coproducts, and energy/carbon/environment. EP

Luke Geiver and Holly Jessen are associate editors of Ethanol Producer Magazine. Reach Geiver at (701) 738-4944 or lgeiver@bbiinternational.com and Jessen at (701) 738-4946 or hjessen@bbiinternational.com. Susanne Retka Schill is the editor of Ethanol Producer Magazine. Reach her at (701) 738-4922 or sretkaschill@bbiinternational.com.