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ACE Conference Sparks Determination to Renew the Industry
by Sara Eiesland

Determination is often characterized by tireless hands, strong-minded goals, and unwavering resolve. To supporters of the ethanol industry, the turbulent economy has certainly challenged what mere determination can achieve in the face of strapped resources.

But last month, supporters united at the American Coalition for Ethanol’s 22nd annual ethanol conference and trade show to renew focus on the determination that has always marked ethanol’s story.

Ethanol producers, equipment and service providers, and advocates gathered at Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Midwest Airlines Center on August 11-13 to foster new business relationships and share information. Determined to renew and unite the mission and the voices of the ethanol industry by illustrating the industry’s ability to persevere through difficult times, ACE’s event – “determination: renew, unite, succeed” – motivated and revitalized grassroots supporters of the ethanol industry.

“We were honored to host another successful conference and trade show,” said Brian Jennings, ACE’s Executive Vice President. “While the sheer number of people attending was lower than in recent years, the quality of the event continued to grow. We received many compliments about the topics which were discussed and activities which took place at the conference and trade show. We are grateful to have so many loyal members and supporters.”

ACE leadership shares determination to succeed

"No one single person, no one single organization, no one single company has a monopoly on good ideas," Jennings said in his conference address. "Instead of focusing on our differences of opinion, we must focus on our common ideas. Only we can defeat ourselves."

Jennings also referred to the ethanol industry's mission as "a marathon campaign to change the status quo." In pushing for a move to make gasoline the alternative fuel, he notes that change of this magnitude must not and cannot begin in Washington, but instead with people who see the value and the importance of ethanol and are determined enough to call their representatives, to write to their senators, and to make political contributions.

After spending the first few years of his life just 15 miles outside of Milwaukee, Ron Lamberty, ACE’s Vice President / Market Development, welcomed a return to Wisconsin and an opportunity to cite football coaching great Vince Lombardi. “Success demands singleness of purpose,” Lombardi once said. Lamberty stated that just like the quarterback, the running back and the linemen need to work together in order to be successful, and so the ethanol industry needs to move differences off the table and focus on common ground.

“Nothing tears a team apart more than one team member publically complaining about the others,” Lamberty said. “A running back who talks about himself and complains about his linemen will soon find himself lying on his back in the backfield. That’s certainly bad for the running back, but it is disastrous for the team.”

Throughout its ten years in paving the roads for ethanol by developing the market, Lamberty stated that ACE has helped to pave the way for ethanol by teaching petroleum marketers the math of ethanol and about ethanol’s value as an octane enhancer. He also cited ACE’s efforts to build bridges, such as working with petroleum retailers and convenience store owners about blender pumps.

ACE has also helped to build bridges within the ethanol industry by uniting with the Renewable Fuels Association and key Corn Grower states for the Blend Your Own Ethanol Campaign, which aims to bring 5,000 blender pumps to America in the next three years.

The “BYOethanol” campaign was unveiled at the ACE conference during a press conference and public announcement on August 11. Visit www.ethanoltoday.com to read the article published in the August issue of Ethanol Today detailing the new campaign.

Speakers deliver messages of optimism, progress

The ACE conference opened with breakout sessions on various industry-related topics, including next-generation feedstocks, federal stimulus funding, distillers grain, and Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). ACE was pleased to have Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary for Rural Development at the USDA, to provide the keynote address to kick off the conference’s general session. Turn to page 22 for a complete report on the Under Secretary’s remarks.

International indirect land use change was a hot topic at the conference, highlighted in a panel discussion between two leading experts: Wally Tyner, professor and energy economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, and Tom Darlington, President of Air Improvement Resource (AIR) Inc.

Tyner noted that prior to 2007, the general consensus was that corn ethanol had a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over gasoline, but then in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 came the requirement that indirect land use change be considered in estimating total GHG impacts. He stated that there are a number of issues involved in developing a lifecycle model to quantify these international changes, including how to define the boundaries, deciding what to include and not include, and working with uncertain numbers.

"How uncertain are these numbers? And they are uncertain, believe me," Tyner said.

He also mentioned the E10 blend wall, calling it "the biggest issue" facing the ethanol industry. "It's a total block to cellulosic ethanol," Tyner said. "Cellulosic ethanol will never appear without getting over the blend wall." Hear more from Tyner in this month’s “Last Word” guest editorial beginning on page 45.

Tom Darlington, who studied the ILUC issue about a year ago for the Renewable Fuels Association, believes a higher credit should be given for the ethanol co-product distillers grain, which goes back into the livestock feed market. He said that other models traditionally believe distillers grain replaces corn on a pound for pound basis, but a new study shows that especially in dairy cattle, swine, and poultry, distillers may replace some soy, too. One pound of distillers grain replaces nearly 1.3 pounds of corn. Properly accounting for that soy offset should have a land use change credit, Darlington said.

When the models are tweaked according to Darlington's recommendations, the outcome is much more favorable for corn ethanol than under the California model, for example.

"Land use modeling is in its infancy," Darlington said. "Regulations requiring these to be estimated are still far ahead of the models. We believe there is great risk in making bad decisions, and they may be irreversible."

The efficiency of ethanol-blended fuel is a statistic that the industry often has to face, but Luke Cruff, an engineer with Ricardo, may have a solution. Ricardo’s "Ethanol-Boosted Direct Injection" (EBDI) project aims to make E85 have closer to the same efficiency as gasoline.

"Ethanol has very good performance potential," Cruff said, saying there are some "very positive properties we can use."

He said that everyone is looking at how to get more performance from an engine, and that this new technology opens up a whole new area of discussion. “More mileage is possible,” Cruff concluded, if an engine is built properly to take advantage of ethanol’s properties.

Visit the social network “Ethanol Collective” online at www.ethanolcollective.com to join in a discussion on “More mileage with ethanol?” based on this conference presentation.

The Wednesday general session closed with a panel discussion on “Strategic Advocacy and PR in the Era of New Media.” The panel, led by ACE’s Communications Director Kristin Brekke and Director of Strategic Projects Shannon Gustafson, also featured Jeremy Bird, Deputy Director of Organizing for America, and Greg Veerman of Astronaut Studios. The panel discussed how social conversation has transitioned from the coffee shop or the local grocery store to the Internet, and what strategies companies can employ to develop a strong advocacy network.

Day two highlights Brazil’s success, cellulosic progress

Thursday’s session of the ACE conference was well-attended by those eager to hear about the progress toward the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol.

Bill Schafer, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Government Affairs for Range Fuels, noted that this month, the company expects to be 50 percent complete with construction at its cellulosic ethanol facility in Soperton, Georgia. Construction is expected to finish during the first quarter of next year, and they will be producing ethanol at commercial scale at the 100 million gallons per year facility in 2010.

Range Fuels was formed in July 2006 by Khosla Ventures and broke ground in November 2007 at Soperton. The company’s technology converts the biomass into synthesis gas, and in phase two the gas is cleaned up and converted into ethanol. They also have a module for the co-generation of power, which Schafer noted has a dramatic impact on lifecycle GHG emissions.

"There are a lot of moving parts out there and it's difficult to get that legislative clarity today that we'd like to get, but what isn't in doubt is that there's a huge push behind this [cellulosic ethanol]," Schafer said.

Doug Berven, Director of Corporate Affairs for POET, spoke about his company's efforts to integrate cellulosic technologies with existing corn-based technologies. This year POET is planning 25,000 acres of corn cob harvest to meet the needs of Project Liberty, a cellulosic biorefinery addition to its existing corn-based ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. POET is working with ag equipment companies and with farmers on adding cob collection to the annual corn harvest. This year, four cob harvesting methods will be unveiled. Next year, 100,000 acres and 70,000 tons of cobs will be collected.

POET is producing cellulosic ethanol today at its pilot plant in Scotland, South Dakota. By June 2009, the plant reported achieving a five-fold reduction in enzyme cost, putting the current total process cost at one dollar per gallon greater than that of the company's corn-based ethanol.

"The thing that stands in the way more than anything else is market development," Berven said. "We are in total agreement with what Brian (Jennings) said the other day that blender pumps are the future in this country. The blend wall is holding up potential investment in cellulosic ethanol."

TMO Renewables Inc. of the United Kingdom was represented by Associate Director of Engineering Jason Robinson. The company has designed and built the UK's first demonstration facility for cellulosic ethanol, and aims to license its technology and process to the U.S. market. TMO's platform is a flexible and scalable industrial system with low energy costs, low enzyme requirements, short process times (hours, not days), and an operational demo facility with a fully integrated process.

TMO's demonstration plant has been operational since June 2008, it's fully staffed, and runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They report having achieved a higher amount of dry solids, which translates into much lower energy costs. TMO's process can fully utilize the biomass' sugars in less than 8 hours, unlike the 50-70 hours common in other processes. The organism they use for conversion is "thermophilic" – it likes heat – and can convert the biomass to sugar quickly without contamination issues. Also, no antiobiotics are added to the process.

“Brazil: Making Mid-Level Blends Work” was a popular topic at the conference, featuring an informative presentation by Joel Velasco of the Brazilian sugarcane industry association UNICA. Velasco told attendees that U.S. and Brazilian ethanol supporters agree on 99 percent of things. “We believe in the power of farmers and agriculture to solve many of these problems,” he said.

Forty-six percent of Brazil's total energy use is considered renewable, he noted, and sugarcane makes up about 16 percent of the country's entire energy matrix. Half a billion tons of cane were grown last harvest, making 7 billion gallons of ethanol. This equals 31 billion metric tons of sugar. In his presentation, Velasco also debunked a significant slice of misinformation that is perpetuated by anti-ethanol interests in the United States.

"There is no correlation between deforestation – it exists in Brazil, and it's a tragedy – but it has nothing to do with growing cane in Brazil or growing corn here in the U.S.," Velasco said.

In Brazil, the "gasoline" is actually E25. Ethanol competes with gasoline and keeps gas prices in check. "Gasoline in Brazil is now the alternative fuel," he said.

Flexible fuel vehicles have been “very, very successful” in Brazil, he said, noting that General Motors does not offer a single car in Brazil today that’s not flex-fuel. The Honda Civic there can run on pure ethanol and meet all emissions standards of Brazil, the U.S., and even Europe.

Velasco says that Brazil supports the move to E15 in the U.S. In UNICA's official comments to the U.S. EPA, they noted that throughout all of Brazil's many fuel changes over the years with different blends of ethanol, there were very, very few incidents with engines.

"We believe the technology is all there," he said, noting that if they could do it with 1970s automotive technology, higher ethanol blends are most likely compatible today.

Visit ACE’s blog – www.ethanol.typepad.com – for more reviews of presentations given at this year’s conference, or to view the photo album “ACE Conference 2009.”

 
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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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