Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Trending in Biofuels: Brazil to Increase Production, Expanding Foreign Ethanol Markets, Rail Risks, Aviation and Marine Biofuels, Enogen Corn

COMMENTARY: Readers who have been with me for a number of years know that I used to rant about corn ethanol policies in defense of unfarmed acres which preserve not only soil and groundwater, but also biodiverse habitats. (I helped break the story about our huge loss of CRP land and the plowing of the Dakotas as a result of ethanol policy back in March of 2013 long before the major news outlets covered it.) My article began like this... "The amount of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), at 27.1 million acres, is down by 26 percent, or 9.7 million acres in the past five years, to a 25 year low." ... Some of the subjects below were sadly satirical. On the one hand, the largest city in Iowa (Des Moines) cannot get decent drinking water for its population because it is contaminated with nitrates, but industrial corn and soybean producing groups are providing money to defend areas contributing to DesMoines nitrate pollution. While this story was in the news, our USDA, under the direction of our Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, sent a team of biofuels representatives and industry leaders to Asia and India where they touted how many greenhouse emissions can be saved, and how much the air quality can be improved if only their populous developing nations would import our corn ethanol and burn it there. And when large banks are interested in the potential for corn production to be expanded in Brazil, isn't that telling? (Growing vast amounts of corn requires lots of borrowed money.) Much of the ethanol industry and exporting of ethanol involves infrastructure, maintenance, and transportation with resulting immense costs to the land related to soil, water, loss of biodiversity, habitat, wildlife, birds, bees and other pollinators, wetlands, monarchs and other butterflies that comes with all out production. Less of the ethanol story translates to good Midwestern job opportunities or an improved quality of life. We are currently experiencing another era like the 90's where industrial farmers may not earn enough by selling corn and soybeans to cover their expensive industrial inputs for chemicals, fertilizers, machinery, seeds, and land costs. Have we reached a new norm, where every Ag-commodity down cycle will result in increased lobbying to increase the percent of ethanol or biodiesel blended into liquid fuels across the globe?
--Kay McDonald

Next, the news trends.

Five biofuels-related subjects that are trending on this Tuesday...

Brazil on a Path to Increase Production of Corn and Soybean Biofuels
An Iowa company has ventured together with a Brazil group to build a $115 million 60-million-gallon corn ethanol plant in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. This will be Brazil’s first corn-only ethanol plant and will be operational in mid-2017. Brazil already produces sugarcane ethanol which accounts for 25% of the world’s total ethanol production. One large global bank estimates that by adding corn ethanol to Brazil’s mix, the nation could increase its total ethanol output by 66 percent by 2022 through increasing Mato Grosso’s corn production, a region which uses double-cropping. Brazil’s government has also recently increased its biodiesel blend mandate to 8%, from 7%. This mandate was previously increased by 1% in 2014, and by 1% in 2015. In response to the newly increased biodiesel mandate, the soybean industry expects increased production of soybeans in the country “to help family farmers". The American company, ADM, operates the largest biodiesel plant in Brazil, owns 40 elevators there, and has ownership in Brazil export terminals. ADM's company website states, “ADM is continuing to invest in Brazil, which is a major center for our global operations. Brazil is one of the world’s most important producers of agricultural products, and will be critical to feeding a growing global population in the coming years. We look forward to continuing to partner with Brazilian farmers to feed the world together.”

USDA Traveling Teams to Expand Ethanol Foreign Markets
This month a delegation made of of corn ethanol representatives of POET, Green Plains Inc., and Growth Energy presented papers on the benefits of ethanol to an expected 23 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members at Chinese Taipei. A U.S. expert from the American Lung Association was also scheduled to go on the trip, as the team touted potential health benefits and improvement of air quality through burning more American corn ethanol. The APEC forum was organized by the USDA, and the USDA/FAS. From there, the team went to Beijing where they were to meet with China’s National Energy Administration - which oversees China’s ethanol policy, as well as major energy producers and traders. Some of the team continued on to India in hopes of advancing U.S. produced corn ethanol in India's fuel supply. In other news, the Renewable Fuels Association, led by Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, went on a recent trade mission to Peru to promote American corn ethanol use there.

Iowa Transportation Department Studies Ethanol Rail Risks Plus Iowa Biofuels Stats

U.S. Ethanol Biorefineries by State and Historic U.S. Fuel Ethanol Production (2015)
The best way to ship ethanol is by rail since it cannot be piped. Because shipping accidents are inevitable, and because Iowa is the leading ethanol producing state, the Iowa Dept. of Transportation and Homeland Security and Emergency Management recently published a study dealing with prevention of accidents and response to ethanol rail shipment accidents.

Here are some Iowa biofuel points of note:

—Iowa is the leading corn producing state, and ranks second in soybean production.

—Iowa has 44 ethanol biorefineries. These produced 4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2015.

—Iowa has 12 biodiesel facilities capable of producing 315 million gallons annually.

—Iowa accounted for approximately 26% of U.S. ethanol production in 2015.

—The Secretary of Agriculture was formerly a lawyer and Governor of Iowa, and is the only remaining cabinet member who holds his post since Pres. Obama became elected. He has been a strong supporter and promoter of U.S. biofuels policies.

Biofuels are Expanding into the Aviation and Marine Fuels Categories
In Queensland Australia, a $16 million biofuels pilot plant will be built, with plans to expand it into a $150 million refinery that would produce 200 million litres of advanced biofuel per year that could be used for military, marine or aviation use. Some of the fuel that it produces in the first 3 years of operation will be used in field trials by the U.S. and Australian navies. It will use biomass such as sugarcane bagasse as feedstock. Last year, law was passed that Queensland petrol must contain 3 percent ethanol blend starting in 2017. The airlines Virgin and Qantas are also interested in obtaining biofuels for aircrafts. Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand wish to use biofuels for about 5 percent of their future fuel needs. This will require about five new biorefineries across Australia and New Zealand. Biojet is a fuel which can be blended with petroleum jet fuel in up to a 50:50 ratio. It can be produced by using hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids in a pathway using oil seed crops, animal fat, or micro algae. So far, however, the production of bioject has experienced a slow start. The Guardian reports that earlier this year, the U.S. navy launched the great green fleet made up of ships which use renewable diesel and biojet. Last month, United Airlines began some flights powered by biojet produced from agricultural waste fats and oils. In addition, Brazil is producing bioject used by Air France, Etihad, and Lufthansas for commercial flights in Europe and Brazil. Besides air transportation, some expect that biofuels will make up 5-10 percent of the global marine fuel mix by 2030 to help lower emissions from shipping.

Syngenta's Enogen Corn Specific for Ethanol Use is Being Grown by More Farmers
You may remember that back in 2011, Syngenta's Enogen corn was approved, causing a backlash from the miller's association which is made up of food companies like General Mills and ConAgra. They feared that if Enogen corn entered the food supply in even tiny amounts, it could lead to recalls or disrupt exports. Enogen contains a microbial gene derived from micro-organisms that live near hot water ocean vents so it is active at high temps during ethanol production. This gene produces an enzyme which breaks down the starch in corn, which is the reason food producers fear it. Currently, it is being used or tried out at a dozen or more ethanol plants. To entice farmers to grow Enogen, Syngenta requires a contract with ethanol plants that requires them to pay an additional 40 cents per bushel for Enogen corn. In order for the farmers to receive the 40 cent bonus, they are also required to plant additional Syngenta seeds on other acres. Ethanol plants using Enogen corn have figured out that they only need about 15 percent of Enogen corn to provide the enzymatic starch break down activity and upgraded equipment is needed to process this unique synthetic corn variety. These plants which use Enogen corn are saved the expense of purchasing alpha amylase enzymes from companies like Novazyme. In effort to keep Enogen from entering the food supply, farmers take special measures. It is planted separately, harvested separately, stored separately, and shipped separate from other kinds of corn.

To view last week's trendspotting post, click here.