Biofuels exec sees growth in exports, E-15

Source: By Roy Leidahl, Iowa Farmer Today • Posted: Monday, April 3, 2017

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Even though U.S. ethanol plants already produce more than federal rules require, ethanol industry growth prospects are bright, according to a renewable fuels executive.

“We are not remaining content with the markets we have today,” said Robert White, vice president of industry relations at the Renewable Fuels Association.

He cited opportunities for more domestic and export demand, and noted that Mexico last year decided ethanol was acceptable with some limitations.

“Science will win,” White said in a speech at the Celebration of Agriculture here March 21. “Science will show them the history that we’ve seen in the United States,” that ethanol helps improve air quality.

White said he’s heard frustration from farmers about commodity and land values, and concerns about ethanol.

“The concern is has ethanol flat-lined? Is that the best we can do? Is this all we’re going to do?” he said.

Ethanol producers’ margins tightened, so last year was not as good as 2014 for the ethanol industry. But he said it was the fourth straight year of profitability.

“It was a record for production, it was a record for net exports, it was a record for domestic demand and a record year for E-15, E-85 and infrastructure buildout at retail fuel stations,” White said.

“E-15 is slowly starting to gain some traction,” he said, crediting former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for making money available for blender pumps and retail infrastructure.

“USDA’s biofuels infrastructure partnership program should put another 1,000 to 1,200 E-15 and E-85 stations on the planet in the next 12 to 18 months.”

White said he’s optimistic that the Trump administration will support ethanol and regulatory reform.

Under current regulations, recruiting retailers to sell E-15 eight and a half months of the year is a tough sell, he said.

“If you walk in the door and you say, ‘I’ve got a higher-octane, lower-priced fuel that 90 percent of the cars can use, and you can make more margin and sell it year-round,’ the conversation changes.

“We have work to do to expand that number,” White said of the 15 billion gallons of ethanol in the Renewable Fuel Standard. “We have work to do to grow those markets so that no one can ever utter the words ‘blend wall’ again.”