Innovation Drives Success

By Brian Jennings | July 11, 2012

In 1862, Congress sent the Homestead Act to President Lincoln for his signature, enabling U.S. citizens to settle on about 270 million acres of land. As a result, pioneers were given the ability to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit to succeed, or fail, by unlocking the rich resources in America’s breadbasket.

Whether individual pioneers did well or fell short hinged on a number of factors, but in the totality of the 150 years since this historic legislation was enacted, it is clear the U.S. scored an unprecedented victory. Today America’s farmers and ranchers are by far the best and most efficient producers on the planet of sustainable, affordable and nutritious crops that become food. One of many ingredients that led to this achievement was innovation.

Government policy can help individuals and businesses innovate, improve and succeed. One such policy is the renewable fuel standard (RFS). While history will judge how the RFS compares to things like homesteading, it is safe to say the RFS is the most important policy enacted by the U.S. to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Reliance on oil imports peaked around 62 percent in 2005. The original RFS, first championed by the American Coalition for Ethanol, was enacted that same year. Today, U.S. oil imports stand at just 45 percent.

The RFS also spurs innovation by rewarding fuels that reduce greenhouse gases. Innovation really does define how the ethanol industry has grown from less than 1 billion gallons of comparatively inefficient production 25 years ago to more than 200 biorefineries in 29 states today, sustainably producing around 14 billion gallons of fuel and nearly 40 million metric tons of feed.

We mark ACE’s 25th anniversary this year, and if you attend our conference in Omaha you will take part in discussions about how ethanol producers are thinking and acting in resourceful ways to succeed well into the future. Steve McNinch, CEO of ACE-member Western Plains Energy, will discuss how his plant is taking advantage of their proximity to cattle feedlots and grain sorghum supplies to produce advanced biofuel for the RFS. Steve will be joined by ICM to discuss progress in cellulosic ethanol and benefits of co-locating cellulose and grain-based ethanol. Other producers will join us to discuss opportunities with biobutanol and other products.

Because ethanol is innovating, it is here to stay. In the context of our nation’s current fascination with hydraulic fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation and the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s important to remember that ethanol is advancing while oil is regressing. While fracking and the Bakken are making a difference, the ultimate price we pay outweighs the short-term benefits. Meanwhile, ethanol producers are continually taking advantage of the product and process technical advancements that have been developed to debottleneck, reduce energy and water use, or create new products and coproducts.

We’ve got to be innovative on the policy front as well, doing the smart diplomacy necessary to reconstruct a winning coalition of allies to help us defend the RFS and win future policy battles. That’s why ACE is working with automakers on flex-fuel vehicles, fuel standards and the better use of ethanol’s octane in the engines of tomorrow. That’s also why ACE has been meeting with scientists, environmental groups and advanced biofuel stakeholders about how we can more constructively work together on common policy goals. One result of these discussions was a group letter to Congress making it clear that the RFS should remain intact. The positive headlines about how environmental groups and ACE came together in support of the RFS grabbed the attention of members of Congress because we were able to unite with forces that had been fighting against ethanol in the recent past. 

Innovation defines how ethanol producers operate and how ACE pursues our member-driven mission to make U.S. ethanol the consumer fuel of choice.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President,
American Coalition for Ethanol
(605) 334-3381
bjennings@ethanol.org