Green it Up

Great Plains Institute hosts Minneapolis meeting
By Holly Jessen | October 18, 2011

Is California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard the primary reason ethanol producers are going greener? That perception exists, said Geoff Cooper, vice president of the Renewable Fuels Association, but it’s not one he buys into. “My view is that, in most cases, technology adoption and efficiency improvements are happening—and were happening long before the LCFS came along—primarily because it enhances a producer’s bottom line.”

Cooper was one of the speakers at the Innovation in the Midwestern Biofuels Industry meeting held Sept. 12-13 in Minneapolis. The event was organized by the Great Plains Institute, co-hosted by the Midwestern Governor's Association, and attended by several ethanol, agriculture and environmental groups.

The event’s planning committee members included representatives from RFA, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Monsanto, Natural Resources Defense Council, Poet LLC and the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Meeting participants agreed that there are areas of common ground, and that they should be working together to figure out how to encourage investment in the existing industry, just as we work to encourage investment in second generation facilities,” Great Plains said in a statement following the gathering.

The event provided an opportunity to update stakeholders from government, academia and the environmental community with current information on the tremendous progress the grain-ethanol industry has made in the past decade, including technology adoption, energy efficiency, water use and greenhouse gas emissions. “More broadly, this event represented an opportunity to revive a constructive dialog between the environmental community and the biofuels industry—two groups that haven’t done much talking in the past few years,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s presentation focused on some of the challenges associated with the renewable fuel standard and the LCFS. The fact is, no two ethanol plants are exactly the same and accounting for differentiation/uniqueness is a challenge for lifecycle analysis-based regulations, he pointed out. Both the RFS and LCFS take “bucket approaches” to default pathways but allow biofuel producers to petition for new or modified pathways, attracting numerous petitions for both.

Ethanol producers can reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency through a variety of technologies and practices. The bottom line is, those technologies and practices have to make financial sense. “An ethanol company isn’t going to sink tens of millions of dollars into a capital project that might lower its carbon intensity score by 10 or 20 percent unless there is a very high probability of a quick payback and a clear benefit to the bottom line,” he said. 

—Holly Jessen