Ethanol: Distilling Hope from Hype with North Central NAMA

Written by NAMA on Friday, October 13, 2006 , 8:46 am

North Central PanelBeginning the 2006-07 NAMA year, the North Central Chapter recently held its first meeting, Sept. 28, themed, Ethanol: Distilling Hope from Hype.

Drawing more than 35 members, the panel featured three industry experts: Gerald Tumbelson, president of the National Corn Growers Association; Randy Doyal, chief executive officer of Al-Corn Clean Fuel; and Ralph Groschen, senior marketing specialist in biofuels from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Each panelist offered different perspectives on the fast-paced ethanol industry.

“We’re not going to quit consuming oil. We just have to add to it,” says Tumbelson, pointing out that renewable fuels, such as ethanol, will not just help meet the country’s need for petroleum, but also to meet the growing demand.

Also noting the fuel versus food issue that’s been raised, Tumbelson says, “We really do produce food. Food will always be number one. People will be number one.”

All three presenters pointed to the need for constant improvement of the ethanol manufacturing process and efficiency, as well as the transition to new renewable fuel options. One example: converting celluloses (such as corn stalks) into ethanol.

While research in this area is advancing, Groschen also cautions that infrastructure and logistics of sourcing celluloses needs to be considered. Details from picking up corn stalks to dealing with weather at harvest can impact the product.

Panelists point out that addressing the nation’s energy crisis goes beyond just sourcing renewable fuels. Doyal notes there is a wide-difference in miles-per-gallon efficiency for vehicles that run on E85. Some show no difference compared to use with regular fuel, while others show a decrease in efficiency.

Effort needs to come from the auto manufacturers to create these efficiencies. It is possible, Doyal adds, referencing a university competition, where students created a 25 percent increase in fuel efficiency with E85.

“It’s frustrating when GM owns Saab. Saab in Sweden owns a 995 turbo in flex fuel that gets 20 percent more in fuel economy and more horsepower, but they aren’t importing it,” says Doyal.

As fast as the ethanol industry is growing, panelists’ comments imply there are numerous misconceptions amongst the general public.

A special thank you goes to Myrna Krueger of Colle+McVoy for moderating the panel, Padilla Speer Beardsley for hosting the meeting and Leslie Shuler of CHS for securing the speakers.

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