Ethanol industry fuels up

Source: By Karen Binder, AgriNews • Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2017

ST. CHARLES, Mo. — Ethanol fuel production hit 15.25 billion gallons in 2016, revving up the renewable fuel field with even more job opportunities, as some college students recently learned.

Thanks to the St. Louis Agribusiness Club, about 400 students attending the National Post-secondary Agricultural Student Association annual conference had the opportunity to hear some of the Midwest’s leading experts on renewable fuels. Here’s what they had to say:

John Caupert, National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center director, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville:

“Since NCERC went online in 2003, 55 technologies we helped develop have been introduced into the commercial marketplace and have helped generate $5 billion in revenue. There were 214 plants in 2015 using at least one of these technologies developed from our distillery.

“In 2007, we set the platform for what we’re doing today by truly educating tomorrow’s workforce. We work directly with industry and academia. We have close relationships with state and national organizations and trade organizations. We’re going where we need to be in terms of education and workforce development.”

Greg Guenther, farmer near Belleville, Ill., a former National Corn Growers Association board member and a bioenergy consultant:

“I congratulate all of you on selecting agriculture as a field worthy of getting into. This is a field that certainly has its ups and downs.”

He explained that he’s been involved with NCERC and also helped start a small 5-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant in Benton. Although the ethanol industry has “grown rapidly,” Guenther pointed out that not all ethanol projects became viable businesses because of differing management philosophies and that understanding the energy marketplace, operational costs and other financial matters is important.

The Benton plant now is closed and in the process of being dismantled.

Kelly Davis, regulatory affairs director, Renewable Fuels Association:

In 2016, she noted, the U.S. produced 15.25 billion gallons of high-octane renewable fuel from 200 operating biorefineries in 23 states, which includes corn-, soybean-, cellulose- and sorghum-based fuels.

Of this total, Davis said 1 billion gallons of ethanol were exported last year. In all, ethanol contributed $42 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product.

Distiller’s grain is a byproduct of renewable fuel production, mostly used for livestock feed, with 42 million metric tons of feed exported in 2016. China, Mexico and other Asian countries were top export countries.

“Ethanol is helping offset our trade deficit,” Davis said.

Barry Frazier, president, Center Ethanol Co. LLC, Sauget, Ill.:

His plant is the only urban-sited location. It opened in 2008 with a 50-million gallon capacity.

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“We purchase over 40 percent of the corn that’s produced in this country. Think what would happen if 40 percent of your demand went away. It would be devastating to the agriculture business.

“We’re here to stay. The jobs, all of the exports and all of the other things we produce will have a viable future going forward.”

Frazier said career opportunities lay in new technology that helps with yield, reducing operating costs and cellulosic product developments. Likewise, he said his company “is always looking for young chemical engineers and operators.”

Matt Schimpf, co-owner, Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil:

He is a fourth-generation owner-operator of this diversified fuel terminal that handles gasoline, diesel, kerosene, ethanol and biodiesel and the only U.S. terminal to offer E15 fuel.

While he suggested students think of his business “as a very large gas station,” Schimpf said the renewable fuels market must focus on retail infrastructure and make buying it easier.

“Right now as a country, we’re short on oil and long on grains. Our market will find equilibrium,” he said.