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June 30, 2006

Ingledew Honored with Award of Excellence in Milwaukee

Dr. Mike Ingledew (left) receiving award from Dr. Kevin Hicks

By the time Dr. Mike Ingledew realized he was about to receive the prestigious Award of Excellence at the 2006 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, he had about 45 seconds to gather his thoughts and step on stage.

“I remember thanking a lot of people,” he says. “But aside from that, I don’t recollect exactly what I said. … It wasn’t something I had prepared for.”

Prepped for an Academy Awards-style speech, maybe not. Graciously appreciative and humble, yes. So when Ethanol Producer Magazine contacted the longtime fermentation researcher, he was eager to reiterate and amplify his appreciation of the honor bestowed him. More importantly, the professor had time to sit down and articulate the respect he has for the men and women he has taught, mentored, worked with and learned from during his 36-year career. “As I sometimes say, professors walk on the backs of their students, technical staff and postdoctorate fellows,” he tells EPM. “I’m very proud of the contributions that my group has made to the fuel ethanol industry. Some are actually working in the industry now, and others are on their way. Much of the work I get patted on the back for is work my students have taken on. Sure, I suggest projects, I collaborate with them on the results, and I raise the money for their support and to equip the lab—but they are the ones in the lab doing the work.”

Maybe so, but those close to Ingledew can tell you he’s done a tad bit of work himself. Specifically, Ingledew is a professor in the Department of Applied Microbiology and Food Science at the Saskatoon-based University of Saskatchewan. His research has become totally specialized in ethanol production, ethanol tolerance, very high gravity fermentation technology, “stuck and sluggish” fermentations, contaminanting microorganisms and ethanol yield losses. Over the years, he has published more than 150 research papers, taught an untold number of courses in brewing and ethanol production, served as the past editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, and reviewed hundreds of manuscripts and grant applications. Of particular relevance to the Award of Excellence, Ingledew has consulted with private industry in the fuel ethanol industry worldwide for well over a decade.

The award, along with a $1,000 check, was presented by BBI International President Kathy Bryan and ERRC/ARS/USDA Lead Scientist Dr. Kevin Hicks during an evening festivity at the FEW on June 22 in Milwaukee. Bryan created the award in 2000 to recognize professionals who have made significant contributions to the fuel ethanol industry through their research, technical advisory and/or development activities. All who have received the award have conducted research and/or technology improvements that have had a positive impact on the industry. Past honorees include Dr. Raphael Katzen (2000), Dr. Rodney Bothast (2002), and Dennis Vander Griend (2004).

Recognized by Industry Colleagues

Although Ingledew has received numerous awards throughout his career—including the International Biotechnology Medal of Excellence (1999/Alltech) for his efforts to advance the biochemistry of yeast in alcohol production—he says he is especially honored to receive the Award of Excellence because, like the Medal of Excellence, it was presented to him by his industry colleagues. “It certainly means a lot to an academic to be recognized by industry,” he explains. “Most university profs don’t work with industry much in the first place. Most of them do basic science. So when they get awards, they usually come from academic societies. For me, the big high in getting the Award of Excellence was the fact that industry really appeared to appreciate the kinds of things we have done in both education and research.”

Ingledew has cut back to working half-time at the university since late 2004 when he planned to ease into retirement and instead found himself in a new private industry job with Ethanol Technology, a Milwaukee-based yeast, yeast food and antibacterial provider that acquired the alcohol division of Kentucky-based Alltech. Now, Ethanol Technology publishes The Alcohol Textbook and operates The Alcohol School, a renowned educational event now held in both Toulouse, France, and Montreal. Ingledew quips, “I decided in my wisdom that because I was closing in on the end of my career that I would go half time, and with the other half of my time … well, that sort of never happened. The minute I told a few people I was going half time at university, Ethanol Technology offered me a position I couldn’t refuse.”

Ingledew is coordinating the two Alcohol Schools and will edit the next edition of The Alcohol Textbook, which is expected to be published in 2008. “I have a long history as a lecturer at the School,” he says, explaining that he started participating in The Alcohol School in 1986 and highly values the time he spent working with industry veterans like Alltech founder and CEO Pearse Lyons, Dave Kelsall and now-deceased alcohol industry legend John Murtagh. “Those are the people who welcomed me to the school with open arms and really got me involved. I guess I’m closing in on 20 years with that now.”

Working with private industry is nothing new for Ingledew. In fact, it could be said that it’s been the biggest stamp on his successful career—and it’s something he’s still passionate about. Aside from a few sabbaticals, his entire career has been spent at the University of Saskatchewan. “A long time,” he says with a sort of understated reverence for the institution. The first dozen or so years of his career were largely focused on brewing. Ingledew worked extensively with Molson, which recently amalgamated with Coors. “Molson was a really great company to work with,” he recalls. “I learned a lot about brewing in those years and we did a lot of research in that area. I actually worked for Molson for an entire year (when he accepted a senior industrial fellowship from the National Research Council of Canada). That paid my way … and it was what got me involved with industry in the first place. In that respect, you could say I cut my teeth on an industrially-oriented research program.”

Ingledew credits Molson with funding his research at a level that allowed him to do things that he otherwise might not have been able to accomplish. In those early years, many of his students pursued careers in brewing. Since the start of the last decade, however, Ingledew and his group have been primarily focused on fuel alcohol. Industrial support has fostered that path.

Academic Work, Commercial Success

Over the years, Ingledew has many great opportunities to work with and consult ethanol producers and industry service providers. Although he has enjoyed working with dozens of companies, he says he probably most values the time he spent working with the Broin Companies. “I’d say that’s the one company I have probably benefited the most from, he says. “The Broin brothers—the ‘bothers three’ as I call them—Jeff, Rob and Todd—as well as Steve Lewis, allowed an academic to spend a lot of time with them because they trusted me. So I learned a lot about how our own technology—the very high gravity fermentation in particular, as well as some stuff we did on fractionation and others things—ended up being used and successfully engineered into their plants. I’m proud of that … I’m glad to see it happen. They’re remarkably talented people. In fact, I think Steve Lewis should have been up there on the platform in Milwaukee instead of me.”

Ingledew gives credit to the university for having fostered an environment that encourages private industry collaboration. “Universities are strange beasts in the sense that you are hired to teach, but research is also a big part of the job,” he says. “So a university professor has the freedom to work on virtually anything he wishes to get involved with, as long as he can raise the money to do it. But the university doesn’t give us money to hire people. It only gives us space. So in my case, with an early involvement in the brewing industry, it was easy to generate alcohol-oriented research related to brewing. One thing led to another and some of the findings we made in brewing were translatable to the fuel alcohol industry. All we did was change gears and move into a different area of research … but it was still alcohol.”

Although his roots are in brewing, the ethanol bug has bitten Ingledew hard. He’s a fixture—and a perennially high-rated presenter—at the FEW, an event he’s been attending since the early 1990s. “I don’t remember exactly what year I started going, but I want to say probably about the time BBI International began running the show,” he says. “I have probably been at every single FEW since that time, except for maybe one year. I honestly love the conference, but I loved it even more when it was smaller and everyone knew everyone. …We had some good times.”

The old days are gone, of course, and Ingledew is more than happy to give up the intimacy of a fledgling industry for the success of a maturing one that he’s helped cultivate. He lauds the FEW, calling it a “first-rate convention and organization” and “a wonderful mechanism by which people can get together, network and discuss the science, engineering, marketing and business of fuel ethanol production.”

Pushing the Envelope with Grain Ethanol

After 36 years working in brewing, enology and fuel alcohol production, Ingledew has developed a broad perspective of the industry. He’s a proud Canadian, but he doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that Canada’s ethanol industry is “perhaps 15 years” behind that of the United States, and, in fact, most of his work with private industry over the years has been conducted with U.S. companies. “Let’s face it, the U.S. ethanol industry is in an exponential growth phase,” he says. “The capacity represented by plants under construction is greater than what the industry even produced just a short time ago. I believe that it’s just what the United States needs—and the rest of the world will probably follow.”

Up on his side of the border, the ethanol industry is much smaller, and growing much more slowly. “Canada’s trying … but the fact that the engineering design firms, builders, lenders and investors are so focused on the U.S. right now is making progress that much more difficult in Canada,” he says. “The leading design/build firms are probably not going to do a whole lot of work outside their borders. They’re already booked until 2009.”

However, Ingledew has seen enough to believe that the U.S. ethanol industry’s growth will eventually taper off due to constraints on grain feedstock supplies. “The United States won’t even get to 20 percent substitution of gasoline before things really start to slow,” he predicts. “Starch is so much easier to convert than cellulose … but we will eventually run out of feed corn and small grains. The next great hope, of course, is cellulose, and we need to have that on board—even if it comes in at a higher price—so that we have ethanol being made from two sources.”

For the most part, Ingledew has stayed out of the cellulose game, choosing to stay focused on starch feedstock fermentation over the years. To some, that’s made him a researcher of a soon-to-be obsolete process. To others, he has been the quintessential persistent, hard working scientist—and one of the industry’s great minds.

“It’s really funny, because I applied for ethanol research funding many years ago from the Canadian government, and I was turned down because one referee said, ‘Everything there is to know about ethanol from starch is already known,’ Ingledew recounts. “Since that time, of course, we’ve done all this work on very high gravity fermentation, mainly with government funding. Other people have done fantastic work with molecular sieves, energy recycling, fractionation and all sorts of other things. Collectively, it has all led to the cost of ethanol production being lower. So I guess you could say those grant reviewers were just a little bit off base.”

How much longer will industry researchers keep coming up with significant breakthroughs in the grain-to-ethanol industry? “That’s hard to predict,” Ingledew says. There are so many new technologies and opportunities to work on. “Somebody could come up with a starch hybrid, either corn or wheat, that yields well and has five percent higher starch. All of a sudden you have more productivity without harvesting more grain, and without using more land. Those kind of things can and probably will happen.” EP  


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