FEW: 'Where Producers Meet'

More than 2,000 people will gather in St. Louis for the 29th Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo.
By Chris Hanson | April 16, 2013

St. Louis introduced the world to the first cast-iron dome, the first skyscraper and launched the historic Lewis and Clark expedition. With a rich history of innovation and discovery, it is little wonder that the 29th Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo will make its home in St. Louis.

More than 2,000 industry professionals are expected to attend the FEW, which will be headquartered at the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis June 10-13. Nearly one-fourth of the attendees will be ethanol producers, who, last year, represented 87 percent of U.S. production capacity. All seven Canadian provinces were represented along with 41 U.S. states and 33 countries.  

“As the international ethanol industry’s leading production-oriented event, the FEW truly lives up to its mantra, ‘Where Producers Meet,’” says Tom Bryan, president of BBI International and editor-in-chief of Ethanol Producer Magazine. “Plant employees, managers and board members attend the FEW because it’s built around their needs. The agenda is rich with content aimed at helping them run their facilities more efficiently and more profitably, and the expo is full of industry service providers and equipment manufacturers eager to talk to plant personnel about new technology and solutions.”

Learning Opportunities
During the general session, attendees will hear from pioneers in cellulosic ethanol development, learning whether this is the year that commercial-scale production finally arrives. Producers will catch up on progress in construction and commissioning from cellulosic industry leaders in the U.S. and beyond.  

After the general session, attendees can fan out to the expo floor where exhibitors from across the industry represent every facet of ethanol production and services, including equipment manufacturers, suppliers and technology service providers, and economic development; finance and lending professionals. Breakout panels will feature four tracks: production; leadership and financial management; coproducts, and cellulosic and advanced ethanol.  

The most popular track in recent years, the cellulosic and advanced ethanol panel sessions, will include more project updates from the industry’s first commercial-scale facilities, as well as those looking at ways to scale up cellulosic output at existing starch-based facilities. Steve Rust, vice president of sales and marketing for California-based Edeniq Inc., says attendees will learn how current ethanol plants can migrate to second-generation technologies and provide cellulosic gallons in existing facilities to meet the renewable fuels standard. Others speaking on the “Parallel Production” panel will give updates on the approaches being developed by ICM Inc., Katzen International Inc. and the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center. Other topics in the track include cost-effective saccharification pathways, leveraging new products and process pathways and algae integration. 

Tailored to industry professionals focused on production efficiency and process optimization, the production and operations track attracts a full house each year at the FEW. In one of six panel presentations in that track, Robert Wilson, ICM Inc. product manager, will describe new software from ICM to replace paper records with a comprehensive database with the goal of improving plant performance. “We are in the information age, but getting that information into a format to make it useful has been a challenge,” he says. Others on the panel on capturing and utilizing real-time data will present the work being done by Ashland Water Technologies, Rockwell Automation Inc. and Carbo Analytics LLC. Other topics within the production and operations track include fermentation optimization techniques, managing bacterial contamination, water-use strategies, yeast population efficiency and environmental and regulatory compliance.

Addressing leadership and financial management, Mark Warren, a partner from Colorado-based Ascendant Partners Inc. will participate in the panel titled “Plant Valuation in an Era of Tight Margins and Industry Consolidation.” Given the tight margin environment and all the activity taking place in terms of consolidation and policy, he says, “it’s paramount to understand what that means to the outlook of your business, specifically the financial implications. My session will be valuable because I will speak of ways to be more proactive in a challenging market environment so that your company is best prepared for long- term success, whether that means continuing to operate or defining an exit strategy.” Other panels in the track will cover facility profitability, reducing risk, understanding available corn inventories, assessing plant performance, and workforce stability.

The fourth track is customized for attendees responsible for producing and marketing distillers grains as well as plant executives exploring product diversification strategies such as fractionation and corn oil extraction. Rachel Overheul, engineering manager from Kansas-based WB Services LLC and a new speaker at the FEW, will be speaking on the “Revenue Remix” panel discussing how to make coproducts more valuable to ethanol producers. She will showcase a plant that uses corn oil to produce drop-in biodiesel with a process similar to a crude oil refinery. Other subjects in the track include methods to increase corn oil yield, diversification’s effect on financial viability, the potential for lowering a facility’s carbon score, how to enhance distillers grains, and new milling strategies.

Wilson, Warren and Rust, all past attendees of the FEW, say the event is a great opportunity for ethanol producers. “The FEW is the main event for the ethanol industry, as it showcases new ideas and products to keep plant users abreast of new developments to improve their business performance,” Wilson says. If a speaker has a concept that addresses a need, the attendee and speaker can begin to work together on solutions, he adds. According to Rust, the event provides the chance for producers to see the innovative contributions that are making plants more cost-effective.

Tour Highlights
The FEW goes beyond the expo and workshops to include networking opportunities during golfing and a newly-expanded-to-two-day offering of industry tours. The golf outing at the Gateway National Golf Links requires preregistration. On the first day of the conference attendees will have the chance to see the state-of-the-art Bunge-SCF Grain Elevator on the Mississippi River in Fairmont City, Ill. The terminal can handle approximately 300 truck deliveries per day and boasts 1 million bushels of grain storage capacity. That afternoon, the tour buses will cross the river to Monsanto’s campus at Chesterfield, Mo., where participants will learn about the breadth of the company’s work from seed genetics to the entomology of a corn field.  

Tour participants on the final day of the FEW will be joining in a celebration of 10 years of research at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center on the Southern Illinois University campus in Edwardsville, Ill. Over its decade in existence, nearly 50 different technologies now found in the ethanol industry have passed through the facility. NCERC is lining up a special program with speakers from the National Corn Growers Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, Renewable Fuels Association and others. Additionally, the tour will feature the center’s analytical and fermentation labs, the pilot-scale ethanol plant on site and will include a look at two feedstock programs and a mini-exposition showcasing the latest equipment in corn production. 

Industry Awards 
Each year, BBI International and Ethanol Producer Magazine recognize two individuals for their contributions to the ethanol industry. This year's honorees will be announced in the general session at FEW. The Award of Excellence recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to the fuel ethanol industry through research, technical advisory or development activities. Gerald Shurson, a distillers dried grains researcher from the University of Minnesota, was last year’s recipient. The FEW High Octane award acknowledges outstanding efforts to both promote and advance the ethanol industry over the years. The 2012 winner was Larry Johnson, owner of Minnesota-based LLJ Consulting and Business Development. Nominations are being accepted through May 6. 

Author: Chris Hanson 
Staff Writer, BBI International