Corn Commentary

E For Ethanol and Enzymes

CUTC AttendeesThe word “enzymes” was a key one at the CUTC this year and in fact, one whole session was devoted to it titled, “New developments and efficiencies in the world of enzymes.”

One of the speakers on that program was Elizabeth Hood, Arkansas State University. I spoke to her about her presentation. She’s a plant biotechnologist with a small start up company. They produce enzymes for biomass conversion. Her talk was about the work their doing that uses the corn kernel as the bio-factory for making enzymes. She’s hoping that this will be a co-product for ethanol production.

Elizabeth says it will be about 12 to 16 months until they have commercial products and that they’ve been working on the project for about 7 years.

You can listen to my interview with Elizabeth here:


CUTC Photo Album

Creating New Products From Ethanol

Carl LiraFor many people, ethanol seems like a new product, although it’s anything but. What is new is how researchers are finding new products that can be made from ethanol itself.

At the recent CUTC, one of the presentations was “Reactive Distillations for Chemical Products from Ethanol” by Carl Lira, Michigan State University. I spoke with him about the work he’s doing in this area.

Carl says he’s looking at methods to diversify the ethanol production platform. For example, he’s looking at new products that can be made from ethanol so that producers can diversify and react to the market in different ways. He’s trying to get them to think with more of a bio refinery philosophy. From a product standpoint, he’s using ethanol as a reagent to produce high quality chemicals.

He says they’ve done some economic analysis which is available from NCGA and that it looks very attractive.

You can listen to my interview with Carl here:


CUTC Photo Album

Food AND Fuel Ethanol Technology

ICM technologyICM, Inc. made what could quite possibly be a revolutionary announcement today about technology that can be added to existing ethanol plants to allow the production of both fuel AND food. Not just distillers grains to feed livestock, but high quality protein to feed people.

ICM president Dave Vander Griend says their technology can literally help to feed the world. “There’s been a lot of talk about the global need for grain, but in fact, the global need is really for protein,” he said.

Dave Vander Griend ICMThe process separates the corn kernel into its three main components – endosperm, germ and bran. Optimizing the whole kernel allows for the production of a number of food and feed grade co-products as well as another alternate fuel source to power the plant itself.

One of the most promising aspects of the technology is the protein that can be separated out from the germ. “Because that protein is a very amino acid balanced protein, a very healthy protein,” Dave says. The protein can be then utilized as a supplement to make a better food product and could be exported as part of the United States food aid program.

I interviewed Dave about this exciting opportunity during the Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Nashville. He also talks about the mood of the industry and his feelings about the efficiency of American farmers.

You can listen to my interview with Dave here:

Blunt Stands Firm

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt has denied a request by Kansas City for a waiver of the state’s ten percent ethanol renewable fuels standard.

“We have reviewed the request for a waiver of the E-10 standard in the Kansas City area,” Gov. Blunt said. “After thorough consideration of all aspects of this waiver request, I have decided it is in the best interest of the state to not issue the waiver.”

Missouri CornThat was good news for Missouri corn growers, who strongly support the state renewable fuels standard.

“With gasoline prices already soaring, removing ethanol in Kansas City would send prices even higher,” said Missouri Corn Growers Association president Mike Geske. “By denying the waiver, Gov. Blunt is preventing consumers from experiencing additional pain at the pump.”

Missouri currently has the lowest average gas price per gallon nationwide at $3.82 and part of the credit for that is being given to the ten percent mandate. Read this “Expainer” article by Slate.com.

Modifying the Corn Genome For Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Mariam SticklenOne of the many presenters at the recent CUTC was Mariam Sticklen, Michigan State University. Her topic was, “Modifying of the Corn Genome for Cellulosic Ethanol.” She had a full room since this is such a timely topic.

She says that corn ethanol is a transition but that it’s a good, mature technology which can still be improved. So she’s been working on ways to improve cellulosic production. Her team (she says she just gives the talks) is working to modify the corn genome so it can produce all the enzymes necessary for converting the cellulose into fermentable sugar so it can be converted to ethanol. In my interview with her you can hear more about this research project.

She understands that companies need to find ways to produce cellulosic ethanol in a commercially viable way and says that for that to happen it’s going to require gene modification to lower the costs. She says that this can be done now and how quickly we’ll see it on the market is dependent on when companies invest the resources to make it happen.

You can listen to my interview with Mariam here:


CUTC Photo Album

Grab the Tissue Box

When the representatives from the National Corn Growers Association met with officials from the Grocery Manufacturers Association recently to talk about their anti-ethanol campaign, they not only refused to back down, they warned that the attack was just beginning and would intensify.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa says GMA is starting a new ad campaign that is expected to be a “tearjerker.”

Chuck Grassley“Kids starving to death, doing an injustice to the environment – it’s going to be an all-out effort because they have to protect their bottomline,” Grassley says. “They have to have an excuse for increasing the price of their food. Forget all these altruistic things. It’s another Adolph Hitler lie, the bigger the lie, the more people are to believe it. And it’s easy to lie when people are ignorant about ethanol.”

Grassley says he understands that former Congressman Cal Dooley, who is CEO of GMA, would like to meet with him. He hopes that meeting will take place because he has plenty to say to him.

The Media Perspective on CUTC

Andy Vance and Christina KoboldtWhile I was attending the CUTC I turned the tables on one of the media representatives covering the conference. Pictured on the left is Andy Vance, Buckeye Ag Radio Network along with NCGA’s Christina Koboldt.

I asked Andy why he attended. He says that what’s happening with corn is extremely important right now to his audience and that he couldn’t imagine not being there. Since the CUTC focuses a lot on new uses for corn he wondered if some of the new uses would generate as much public reaction as using corn for ethanol has.

Andy says that there were several Ohio growers present and even leading some of the sessions. He thinks that growers should participate since these new technological uses of corn are very important to their future.

You can listen to my interview with Andy here:


CUTC Photo Album

CNBC Investing in the Truth about Ethanol

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CNBC has an excellent video dispelling some of the myths about corn and ethanol.

Anti-Ethanol Poll Clearly Shows Bias

The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., “think tank,” has released the results of a poll it commissioned surveying public attitudes about the renewable fuels standard. The press release headline states “Farm-Belt Voters Favor Eliminating or Scaling Back Corn Ethanol Mandate, New Poll Finds.”

So, haw many “Farm-Belt Voters” were surveyed for this poll? 500? 1,000?

How about … 40. Of the 802 voters surveyed, only 5 percent were what the pollsters considered farm belters.

But what is truly ridiculous here is the transparency of the bias. Question Three of the poll gives a brief version of boths sides of the issue. But notice how the bias is toward one side:

“Supporters of this corn ethanol mandate say that the law promotes America’s energy security, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and provides financial benefits for farmers and agricultural businesses.”

“Opponents of this corn ethanol mandate say that ethanol production is increasing food prices, produces more net greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline, and contributes to world hunger by converting food to fuel, while doing little to promote energy security. It has been estimated converting the entire U.S. corn crop to ethanol would reduce gasoline consumption by only a few percentage points.”

And then Question Four adds information about the disputed land use research:

“Two new studies, one from Princeton University and the other from the University of Minnesota in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, found that ethanol contributes more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline to the atmosphere, while expanded ethanol production encourages habitat destruction.

“Now knowing this, do you believe the ethanol mandate should be…”

No attempt whatsover is made to offer an opposing viewpoint.

Well, it is a political season, and the pollsters are based in Washington, so maybe this survey is just one example of what we have to look forward to in the months ahead. But it’s a shame they stoop to this and cannot rely solely on arguing the facts.

More Popcorn Poppycock

Coincidentally coming at the kickoff of the big summer movie season, the theater industry has decided to raise prices for BOTH popcorn and tickets and blame it on ethanol.

Iowa PopcornIf you remember last year, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board popped the myth that ethanol caused higher popcorn prices by dramatically demonstrating just how much popcorn you can get for five bucks. Pictured is ICPB intern Paul Brees with 38.5 pounds of popcorn – the equivalent of about $1280 at the movie theater.

Missouri Corn Growers president Mike Geske was popping mad enough about the movie theaters’ claims that he wrote a letter to the Kansas City Star last week.

Dear Editor: It is ridiculous to blame the rising cost of a movie ticket on ethanol (5/23, A-1, “Corn costs adding pop to prices at the movies; Kansas City-based AMC will increase ticket and popcorn prices at its area locations”). In 2007, the farm price for popcorn was 13 cents per pound. Prior to popping, the average $5 tub contains 0.15 pounds, or about 2 cents’ worth of popcorn. Even if the price of popcorn would have doubled in the last year, there would be only about 4 cents’ worth of popcorn in the $5 tub at the theater. Additionally, the paper pulp used to produce popcorn tubs has jumped 40 percent in the past 36 months. This increase makes the popcorn less expensive than the tub it comes in. Lastly, popcorn and field corn, used primarily for livestock feed and ethanol, are not the same. It is irresponsible to paint ethanol as the scapegoat at the expense of farmers.

Time to get out the popcorn poppers and hold a few more media events to illustrate just how ludicrous it is to blame ethanol for increasing the cost of something they make such a huge profit on already.



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