Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Region Nine Renewable Fuels Task Force
Our group met on September 20 to evaluate the September 7 E85 educational event held at Snell Motors(GMC) in Mankato. The day was a huge success with an estimated 400 people attending. Bus tours to the North Star Ethanol plant near Lake Crystal (Blue Earth County) were full. The tabulation of the pre event and post event surveys are not complete at this time; but the task force felt those attending definitely increased their knowledge of ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuels.
Since the inception of the Renewable Fuels Task Force; one of the goals has been to educate ourselves about renewable energy. Ethanol has been our main emphasis; but biodiesel, wind energy, and solar energy as well as others are on our agenda. This post will be a "white paper" on ethanol.
Ethanol Making America’s MidWest the New MidEast?
Ethanol is alcohol distilled from a carbohydrate source. Presently most of the ethanol is made from corn; because it is a commodity which is in good supply and the price is competitive. Ethanol can be made from any product that is a good source of carbohydrate like: sugar cane(used in Brazil), straw, switch grass, potatoes, cheese whey, and sugar beets. As I write this I am thinking it would be beneficial to the spinach farmers in California if there was a plant that could use their damaged product and make it into ethanol. As far as I know, there is none.
E85 is a fuel composed of 85% ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. It performs much like gasoline, but the fuel has a lower energy content than gasoline: a vehicle running on E85 has about 80 percent of the range of a comparable size gasoline-powered vehicle. To compensate, it is often priced lower than gasoline to partially make up for the difference. (E85 was selling for $1.69 a gallon in Mankato on September 22.) This fuel can be used in flex fuel automobiles. (To determine if you have a flex fuel automobile go to www.e85fuel.com and follow the directions. This is the website of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.)
Today there are approximately 20 ethanol plants in Minnesota that are operating or being built. (Approximately 140 nation wide.) The Minnesota Department of Agriculture website listed 17 plants and I know of two or three that are being built that were not listed. Martin County will have two plants; one is being built in Waseca County; and another getting started in Brown County. Information from the Minnesota Corn Growers states that ethanol production in Minnesota was 550 million gallons at the beginning of this year. Presently we have over 200 pumps dispensing E85 fuel in Minnesota. Minnesota has more pumps than any other state and new ones are added every week. If stations are wanting to add E85, the following are direct E85 suppliers in Minnesota as of June 2006.
Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, Deb Messis: dmennis@cvec.com or 320-843-4813
CHS, Incorporated, Sales Department 1-800 547-3835
C and N Biofuels, Mark Malecha 651-683-0223
RPMG Ethanol Marketing Tod Beers: tbeers@rpmgllc.com or 952 873-2428
VeraSun Energy Rick Eggebrecht:rick@verasun.com or 605 696-7205
Agri-Energy Lyle Rollag 507 597-6466
American Lung Association Pilot area
One of the reasons Minnesota is a leader in renewable fuels is the cooperative effort between the Minnesota Corn Growers and the American Lung Association of Minnesota and the selection of Minnesota to participate in a pilot project. The pilot project is to promote E85 and biodiesel. The work done in Minnesota has spun off to five neighboring states. The program provides help to build ethanol stations, help in off-setting costs to retailers, developing and printing promotional literature, and showing existing stations the steps to follow to put in E-85 pumps. (Go to www.CleanAirChoice.org to obtain information.)
Ethanol = Clean Air
Ethanol is an oxygenate, which simply means that it contains oxygen (35 percent). Adding oxygen to fuel results in more complete fuel combustion, reducing harmful tailpipe emissions. Ethanol also displaces the use of toxic gasoline components such as benzene and MTBE, both known carcinogens. Note: right now ethanol produced at the North Star plant at Lake Crystal is sold to California to help displace MTBE. Unlike petroleum-based fuels, ethanol is non-toxic, water soluble and quickly biodegradable. The American Lung Association views renewable fuels as the way to clean up our air. Deaths from lung disease have risen faster than any other disease in the past 10 years and the cause is air pollution from fossil fuels. Gas fueled cars will put 3 tons of pollutants in the air. Compare that with ethanol powered cars that emit none.
Quick Facts:
*Ethanol has a positive energy balance. Old studies stating the contrary are hogwash. Increased efficiency in both corn and ethanol production over the last twenty years are the two major reasons that a recent USDA study calculates that dry-mill ethanol has a positive net energy balance of 1.77. In other words, ethanol provides 77 percent more energy than it takes to produce. Contrast this to gasoline’s negative net energy balance of .81.
*There is no shortage of corn. In 2004, U.S. farmers produced a record 11.8 billion bushel corn harvest-and some 1.4 billion bushels (about 13 percent) were used in ethanol production. Remember that it is field corn, not sweet corn that is used to produce ethanol. There will be plenty of corn for livestock feed as economists project this demand as well as the export market demand to remain relatively flat in the long term. AND you might be interested to note that the amount of field corn used for human food processing such as starch, sweeteners, and cereal amounts to about 5 percent of the total corn usage. Corn demand for food processing has been flat for the last 15 years.
*Ethanol production currently utilizes only the starch portion of the kernel. The remaining protein, fat, fiber, and minerals are incorporated into distillers grains; a high-value livestock feed. These products are replacing corn in beef and dairy rations and eventually poultry and swine rations. This is a boon to the livestock industry.
*How much ethanol can be made from a bushel of corn. Presently one bushel of corn yields 2.8 gallons of E100 ethanol; 11 pounds of livestock feed; and 3 pounds of other products.
*What does it cost to make a gallon of ethanol? The cost runs around $1.50 a gallon.
*What about subsidies? Small subsidies for ethanol producers pale in comparison to the huge subsidies long enjoyed by oil companies. A study by the International Center for Technology Assessment in 1996 found that if the cost of gasoline at the pump reflected all the subsidies given to oil companies, the true cost of gasoline would be from $5.60 to $15.14 per gallon. This study was conducted when the price at the pump for regular gas was just over $1.00 a gallon.
*Who owns the ethanol plants? In Minnesota there are a couple of plants that are farmer-owned cooperatives. Most of them are privately owned. The reason for this is that it takes a lot of capital and there is a fair amount of risk involved in building and running an ethanol plant. Farmers are good at what they do - namely growing crops. They may not be the best suited to own and operate an ethanol plant.
*Exclusivity contracts between fuel distributors and gas stations limit the stations from purchasing or selling fuels from sources other than the main distributor. In New York, Governor George Pataki recently signed a law prohibiting these contracts. This will open the door for more stations to provide ethanol.
The Future is Promising
The industry is bound to enjoy increased efficiently as it ages. Scientists at Purdue have developed a process to obtain 2.85 gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn and co-products of corn oil, corn fiber, gluten and a protein used to manufacture biodegradable plastic containers. This new technology eliminates air pollutants created from drying distillers grain in the dry mill ethanol processing and sulfur dioxide odor emitted in the wet mill process. The new method reduces water input by 90 percent and wastewater output by 95 percent; electricity use by 47 percent and the total operating costs. Perdue has licensed the technology to Bio Processing Technologies Inc. It is worthwhile to note that availability of an adequate water supply is key to locating ethanol plants.
Cellulosic ethanol is in the future. This is an alternative and more efficient process than used in producing ethanol from corn. The U.S. Energy Policy Act has mandated 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2013. So far there are no plants in Minnesota using this process. However Fagen Engineering of Granite Falls which is currently building 24 of the 36 plants now under construction in the United States very likely will be designing and building the first cellulosic ethanol plant in America also. Congressman Collin Peterson has said that two celulosic plants are scheduled for Kansas and Idaho with wheat straw and switch grass as feedstocks.
Walmart Wants In
Presently Walmart is the largest seller of gasoline in the United States. Congressman Collin Peterson said that Wal-Mart wants to have E85 in at least 20 percent of the Wal-Mart Super Market stores next year with an eventual goal of 100 percent saturation nationwide. end


At Wednesday, September 27, 2006 12:20:00 PM, Blogger World Citizen said...

nice to see some good, firsthand and factual data on this ethanol business. With so much being said about how this is never going to take off (I guess by the oil companies) it is really nice to know that energy independence appears to be on the horizen for the good ole US of A

At Wednesday, September 27, 2006 5:10:00 PM, Blogger Judy D. Hanson said...

Thanks for the nice comment. If you are interested in even more information the Minneapolis Star Tribune www.startribune.com is running a series of articles. The first one appeared September 24. There is one in today's edition also. I believe there will be several more.


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