Corn Commentary

Ethanol Center Stage at Sturgis

The Market Development Team of the Renewable Fuels Association stands near one of their banners during the 2009 Sturgis Rally at the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground, just East of Sturgis, SD.

The Market Development Team of the Renewable Fuels Association stands near one of their banners during the 2009 Sturgis Rally at the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground, just East of Sturgis, SD.


Thousands of Harley motorcycle riders from across the nation got an education on corn-based ethanol last week as Robert White and other representatives of the Renewable Fuels Association participated in the popular event known as Sturgis.

The effort to reach out to small engine and motorcycle enthusiasts about ethanol proved wildly successful with an estimated 500,000 consumers touched by the project.

T-shirts, information cards and good old fashioned face-to-face promotion provided ample opportunities to discuss the benefits of using a homegrown fuel. The key points being that it is a domestic product, it is cleaner-burning and it is made from renewable sources.

“We also had 25 static displays, which encouraged riders to, “Ride Safe, Fuel Right.” The event also provided a backdrop to launch a Sturgis Photo Contest at, where riders can win $1,000 for submitting their favorite rally photo. Each night concert goers were able to see ethanol information on the jumbotrons during such acts as Toby Keith and Aerosmith,” White said.

“A cross-section of America attends this event and they shared something in common besides Harley motorcycles. They believed that having a renewable fuel like ethanol that is available today and can safely be used in their motorcycles is important,” he said.

Congratulations from the nation’s corn growers on this great effort.

Energy Jeopardy Continues: And the Answer is Ethanol!

jeopardy If you are looking for yet another reason why U.S. consumers should demand more aggressive action on the development of domestic fuels like ethanol it came out today with energy news from Texas.

Once a huge contributor to the nation’s energy needs, its contributions are in decline. In fact, the drilling rig count in Texas is down to 329 from 958 in August 2008, and employment dropped from 240,000 to 206,200.

Need more evidence? Oil production in Mexico has declined 12.8% in just one year, led by decline in heavy crude of 24,000b/d from April 182,000b/d from May 2008.

China’s oil demand up for 3rd month in June as latest data adds evidence that growth is resuming in the world’s second-biggest oil consumer. Chinese steel producers, which are energy intensive, are now operating at full capacity too so China may be on the verge of setting off another run-up in world oil prices.

Did anyone not see this coming?  If we were playing Jeopardy the answer would be:  “What are death, taxes, and higher gasoline prices?” Question: What are three things you can’t avoid?  Unless of course we embrace alternative solutions like renewable ethanol.

Ethanol Makes More Sense Today Than Ever

Like a good magician practicing sleight of hand Big Oil and other ethanol critics like the Grocery Manufacturers Association wave one hand around with a flourish to get our attention, while the other lifts our wallet.  Thus the steady drumbeat of ethanol costs more, even though in a normal economy it costs less than gas; ethanol is energy deficient, even though redundant studies have proven a 60% net energy gain; ethanol raises food prices, even though there is little direct correlation and evidence to the contrary. I think you get the idea.

So it is high time for ethanol supporters to stop being defensive and using up all of our valuable energy putting out fires and defending the critic of the moment. Perhaps we should start reminding the public of the reasons we turned to ethanol to begin with: it burns far cleaner than gasoline, it works in today’s cars, it creates U.S. jobs and generates real economic activity, it isn’t imported from unfriendly nations, and of course it comes from corn which is abundant and yields are growing rapidly.

Unlike petroleum which is finite, ethanol has a future. With corn growers producing five times more corn today than they did in the 1930’s – and this before we had mapped the corn genome – so we are just beginning to unwrap the potential of maize. And the beauty of ethanol is many kinds of plant material will make continued production expansion possible in the years ahead.

So, let’s start our own drumbeat which demands higher mileage vehicles, one that demands all vehicles be flex fuel capable, one that calls for higher ethanol blends and rewards further development of alternative fuel engine technology, and one that exposes the real costs of our continued reliance on imported petroleum for 60% of our oil needs.

Let’s all raise our voices and ask for a thorough accounting of all costs related to finding, developing, refining, transporting and defending our access to petroleum. Let’s add on environmental costs and the big one that nobody wants to talk about…health costs. Medical costs related to poor air quality boggle the mind, just ask your local Lung Association.

Here is an example of a hidden cost to get your thought process going. Just this year alone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will spend $200 million to clean-up leaky underground storage tanks for petroleum. This program has been going on since 1985 and there are approximately 617,000 underground storage tanks (USTs) nationwide that store petroleum or hazardous substances.

With a little transparency from the Big Oil guys and some thorough detective work by the Congressional Research Service, I think we would rapidly see what a bargain ethanol is today.

Nebraska Corn Growers Give Consumers Ethanol Choices

nebraska blender pumpMotorists in Grand Island, Nebraska now have a range of choices at the pump when it comes to ethanol blended gasoline, thanks to help from the Nebraska Corn Board.

Six ethanol blender pumps were unveiled last week providing flexible-fuel vehicle owners with the option of using E85, E30, E20 or the traditional E10 blend of gasoline. “If you drive a flex-fuel vehicle, you don’t have to fill up with E85 all the time,” said Jon Holzfaster, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “You can choose your ethanol blend based on price, performance and availability. That’s why they’re called ‘flexible.”

Higher blends of ethanol are key to realizing the full benefits of this domestically produced, renewable fuel, Holzfaster said. “The more flex fuel vehicles we have—and the higher blends of ethanol available across the nation—the more we generate economic strength for Nebraska and our entire nation, reduce our expensive and dangerous dependence on imported oil, and improve our environment,” said Holzfaster.

A computer sensor automatically compensates for varying levels of ethanol in the gasoline. The pumps were installed at the Bosselman’s station on Allen Drive in Grand Island. Bosselman’s plans to install more blender pumps in the state, with the next planned for stores at Ainsworth and Chappell.

Illinois Corn Sponsors Clean Snowmobile Team

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board will be sponsoring the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Clean Snowmobile Team in the upcoming 2009 Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge, which has a focus on ethanol fuel. The challenge this year will be held March 16-21, at Michigan Technical University in Houghton, Michigan with the theme being “Flex Fuel”.

Last year the NIU team placed 6th place overall and received the rookie of the year award running on E85 ethanol. This year the team hopes to finish in the top three with a 2007 500cc Turbo Charged Yamaha Phazer.

The “challenge” of each competition has been for students to modify a stock snowmobile to meet a series of requirements, including air pollution levels. Last year, snowmobiles were required to run on E85 ethanol. This year, snowmobiles can run on any blend of gasoline and ethanol up to 85 percent, making these true flex-fuel vehicles.

The SAE Challenge is a yearly collegiate competition that started in 2000 and is held every year to test the engineering and design capabilities of students from schools across the country.

Wisconsin Corn Celebrates New E85 Station

The Beaver Dam United Cooperative Cenex Convenience Store is giving away free gift cards this Saturday with qualified purchases of 85 percent ethanol fuel as part of a statewide celebration recognizing ethanol’s contribution to the state’s economy and improved air quality.

During the Beaver Dam event, the first 85 Flex Fuel Vehicle (FFV) owners who purchase 8.5 gallons or more of E85 between 10 a.m. and noon at local Cenex Store September 20 receive a $20 Cenex gift card courtesy of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. This is the latest in a series of events celebrating E85 and marking the 100th anniversary of the American Lung Association of the upper Midwest.

“E85 fuel is recognized as a Clean Air ChoiceTM by the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, so it is very appropriate that we celebrate our organization’s anniversary – and 100 years of better breathing – at the same time the state is marking its 100th E85 fueling station,” says Dona Wininsky, Director of Public Policy and Communications for the Lung Association.

“With gasoline prices approaching $4 per gallon, American consumers must realize that ethanol and the country’s Renewable Fuels Standards are part of the solution for rising food and energy costs,” says Randy Woodruff, president of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. “Americans are saving billions of dollars at the pump thanks to biofuels and several recent studies have disproved big oils contention that corn prices are driving up food prices.”

Mandating Flex-Fuel Vehicles is a Good Plan

The idea of a mandate that all vehicles sold in the United States is gaining some traction, mainly due to the efforts of author and aerospace scientist Robert Zubrin and his book “Energy Victory.”

FEW 08 Robert ZubrinZubrin contends that by mandating that all new vehicles sold in the U.S. be flex fuel we would effectively break the economic stranglehold the oil cartel has on the country and the world.

During last month’s Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Nashville, Zubrin made his point by using the analogy of a card game where there is a trump suit that defeats all others and the strategy is for your side to hold most the cards in that trump suit. “It’s the same way in energy,” Zubrin said. “There’s four suits, there’s oil, coal, natural gas and biomass. And right now oil is the trump suit.”

That’s because right now there is mainly one way to power vehicles and that is petroleum products. The key is to change that trump suit, he says, and biomass is the best alternative. The question is how to change the trump suit and Zubrin contends that the answer is to mandate the sale of flex fuel vehicles, which would cost at most $100 per vehicle. “If we had a standard that all new cars sold in this country had to be flex fuel, within three years we’d have 50 million cars on the road in the United States capable of running on alternate fuels,” and Zubrin says that would ultimately result in flex fuel vehicles being sold all over the world.

Others are picking up on Zubrin’s idea on their own, like columnist Clifford May of the National Review Online, and even talk show host Bill O’Reilly. Hopefully, the idea will eventually get to Washington.

Listen to Zubrin’s entire address to the 2008 FEW here and get fired up:

FlexFuel Ferrari

FerrariIt’s all about being flexible at the 2008 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit - flexible fuel, that is.

Take Ferrari, for example. The Associated Press picked up on the story that Ferrari is experimenting with ethanol to help its luxury sports cars produce lower emissions and improve fuel economy.

Ferrari said Monday it developed an engine for an F430 Spider to run on E85, an 85% ethanol blend. The automaker said it produces 5 percent less carbon dioxide emissions and boosts horsepower by 10 percent.

There are lots of other new flex-fuel vehicles at the show. The Illinois Corn Growers reports that “the David and Goliath of the flex-fuel war being waged at the event had to be the concept cars introduced by Hummer and Saab.”

The new e85 Hummer HX is much smaller than its cousins, but markedly bigger and beefier than Saab’s 9-4x BioPower concept vehicle. Meanwhile, Saab’s 9-4X BioPower concept vehicle has a small but powerful engine that should make the most of e85’s higher octane.

Book Discusses Sustainability of Ethanol

book.jpgEvery now and then someone sends us at NCGA a book to read … and every now and then we actually get the chance to review it. A few weeks ago, we received Sustainable Ethanol, by the brothers Jeffrey and Adrian Goettemoeller. Ethanol will be big news in the years ahead, and this book helps lay out arguments why it is a sound alternative. Whether the subject be fuel economy, world hunger, ethanol pipelines or energy balance, the book takes on many of the myths in a readable style.

To order your copy, click here. They also blog, here.

Anti-ethanol baton passes to USA Today

The well-oiled anti-ethanol lobby apparently called the editors of USA Today and told them it was their turn today to jump on the attack, with a story on a weeks-old RAND Corporation report questioning the cost benefits of E85 fuel. A few points to consider:

First, the science and technology behind biofuels and other alternatives is constantly shifting and improving, so such studies only offer a shapshot view of little to no real value.

Second, some aspects of researching and developing any and all non-petroleum alternatives are difficult to quantify in an economic sense. A brief look at whether E85 may or may not cost more to a consumer is only a look at one side of an issue that has so many other dimensions of more significance.

The RAND report is called a “working paper.” We hope they will keep working to improve it and we would refer them to or the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

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