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World Biofuels Symposium
November 13-15, 2005
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2nd Annual Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit
December 13-15, 2005
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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February 5-8, 200
San Diego, California
National Biodiesel Board

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February 20-22, 200
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
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June 20-23, 200
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

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Fuel Ethanol: A Technological Evolution



Posted on  

June 11, 2004

From the archives: Ethanol Producer Magazine, The Energy Independent nearly a decade old

By Tom Bryan

What began as a small newsletter has evolved into a full-fledged industry trade magazine. EPM owes its success to its dedicated readers, and hundreds of supportive ethanol plant suppliers and service providers.

It was November 1995, and the headline on the cover of The Energy Independent (EI) newsletter proclaimed "110 Million Gallons Under Construction."

An unassuming headline that today represents the beginning of what can only be described as the ethanol industry's Golden Age, an ongoing era marked by the continuous construction of new generation dry mills, and the rise of renewable fuels in America. For a decade now, BBI International publications have tracked the industry's growth and brought perspective to its triumphs and trials. We have covered the industry month after month, year after year, as these once small ethanol plants have become progressively larger, more efficient and more successful.

By mid-1995, high corn prices and low ethanol prices spelled tough times for several producers—more than a few ethanol plants were mothballed—but that didn't stop Nebraska Energy, AGP, Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. (CVEC), Al-Corn Clean Fuel, Minnesota Energy and Central Minnesota Energy from breaking ground that year. EI's November cover story read: "It's a dynamic time in the history of the ethanol industry. New facilities coming on line are state-of-the-art, energy efficient and designed to weather wide swings in feedstock and ethanol prices. It's a time of growth and commitment to the future. It is, perhaps, the natural evolution of a young and growing industry."

Sound familiar? It should—the ethanol industry would hear similar statements reiterated a hundred times over during the next decade, as U.S. production capacity would grow from 1.4 billion gallons per year to nearly 3.5 billion gallons per year.

Production actually fell slightly in 1996, but the industry's march forward continued. That May, EI reported that Ethanol 2000 LLP, now a 30-mmgy ethanol plant in Bingham Lake, Minn., was set to break ground. In that same issue, "Ethanol Answer Man" Larry Johnson, now a Delta-T business development manager, authored an article titled "The New Cooperatives … Are they Ethanol's Future?" In the article, Johnson addressed the emergence of "value-added cooperatives" that were springing up in Minnesota and other states. "These new value-added cooperatives offer a new and exciting element to the ethanol industry," Johnson said.

1996 also capped off a dozen years since the inception of the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Trade Show (FEW). The event was held in St. Paul, Minn., that year, drawing 280 attendees and 43 exhibitors.

By June of 1997, EI had taken on a new look and had gained a wide following in the ethanol industry. That month, BBI International President and EI co-founder Mike Bryan said in his editorial, "The ethanol industry is a unique blend of large and small producers. Collectively, they form a strong and united coalition bringing their own individual strengths to bear." Bryan urged Congress to maintain ethanol tax provisions, saying, "the farmer-owned cooperative represents a new dimension in ethanol production that will help forge a new, stronger and more diverse industry."

The December 1997 EI cover story proclaimed "Canada's Largest Ethanol Plant Goes On Line," announcing the start up of Commercial Alcohols Inc.'s Chatham, Ontario facility. That same issue also announced that Alchem Ltd., a 10.5-mmgy dry mill in Grafton, N.D., was set to reopen after an eight-month shutdown. In November of that year, Alchem owner Harold Newman told reporters, "There is reason to be very optimistic about the plant's success." The reason: a regulation that took affect in October of that year in bordering Minnesota that required ethanol blended fuel in all unleaded gasoline. With a picture of then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on the wall behind him, Newman said, "Changes in Minnesota's environmental laws, along with continued unrest in the oil-rich Middle East, suggest ethanol's future is brighter than it has ever been." Talk about foresight.

By 1998, EI had become one of the most widely read publications in the ethanol industry, which was in the midst of a period of important research and development in several areas. In March, EI's cover story reported that a Bellingham, Wash., pulp and paper giant Georgia-Pacific was producing ethanol from sulfate liquor, a pulping byproduct. On June 9 that year, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that extended the federal ethanol tax incentive for another decade. Commenting on the development in his monthly editorial, Bryan lamented, "Clearly there is cause for celebration in the ethanol industry with the extension of the ethanol tax provisions. … It's time not to reflect, but to look to the future and understand the journey."

And the journey was just getting started.
In January 1999, EI went monthly, solidifying its status as the ethanol industry's leading news publication. "We are very excited about the change," Bryan said. "It will allow the Energy Independent to be more timely, cover a greater amount of important issues and expand into areas we think are important."

One of those important areas of editorial expansion was "Personal Profiles" (now called "Professional Profiles"), which began with Ralph Groschen, of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The profiles continued that year with articles on Canadian microbiologist Mike Ingledew, Western Kentucky's Frank Moore, former Lurgi PSI CEO Richard "Dick" Gadomski, Coloradoans for Clean Air Director Barbara Charnes, Enzyme Development Corporation's Bob Sutthoff, Delta-T founder Bibb Swain, ethanol aviation pioneer Max Shauck, Katzen international founder Rapheal "Ray" Katzen, former A.E. Staley executive and Renewable Fuels Association Chairman Bob Schwandt, former Central Minnesota Ethanol General Manager Robyn Wells, and USDA chemical engineer Jim Craig. These great stories and others made 1999 a year to remember.

By the start of the new millennium, the ethanol industry was producing over 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol annually and EI was covering every bit of the action.

Already, California had moved to ban MTBE by 2003, and the ethanol industry was ramping up to meet the anticipated new demand. "We're moving right now to meet California's need for a clean air fuel that doesn't pollute water," said then RFA President Eric Vaughn. "We can replace MTBE in California's gasoline today." Four years later, the transition to ethanol in California is nearly complete.

The 2000 National Ethanol Conference: Policy & Marketing attracted a record turnout to San Francisco, a strategic location at a crucial time. "We came to California to get the word out that ethanol is the clean air, clean water oxygen additive for gasoline," Vaughn said. "To that end, we made huge strides."

EI underwent yet another face lift in October of 2000, switching to distinctive earth-tone colors and updated new look that would be the trademark of the publication for the next 14 months.
2001 was a milestone year for both the ethanol industry and EI. U.S. production had reached nearly 1.8 billion gallons—and construction was about to boom like never before. The RFA's National Ethanol Conference drew 550 people to Las Vegas that February, setting the stage for the tremendous growth that was about to occur in the industry. That month, EI reported that a new ethanol plant was proposed in Wisconsin. Its name: Badger State Ethanol. Golden Triangle Energy came on line in northwest Missouri and Midwest Grain Processors announced plans to build in Lakota, Iowa. Across the globe in China, an announcement was made about a giant ethanol plant proposed in the nation's northeast province of Jilin. A month later, EI reported that Vogelbusch would build the facility.
Thermal oxidation made the cover of the May 2001 EI, as ethanol plant emissions concerns came to forefront of production issues. That month, High Plains Corp. (now Abengoa Bioenergy) reported steady progress on two expansion projects that boosted the company's production significantly. In July that year, EI reported Canada's Iogen Corp. was "focused on a spring 2002 start up." EI also had extensive coverage of the 17th Annual FEW, held again that year in St. Paul. The growth of the industry was reflected in the turnout: over 700 attendees from all over the world, in addition to 80 exhibitors. The FEW was establishing itself as the industry's largest, most prolific annual event. Bob Dinneen was named president of the RFA in July 2001, just as Dakota Ethanol LLC was coming on line in Wentworth, S.D. That same month, Glacial Lakes Energy broke ground on its 40-mmgy ethanol plant near Wartertown, S.D., and the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) held its annual meeting in Aberdeen, S.D., drawing over 350 attendees.

In September of 2001, following the tragic events of 9/11, EI reported that BBI International had decided to move forward with its World Fuel Ethanol Congress in Bejing, China. "We're going to move forward with the Congress," Bryan told EI. "While our hearts are heavy, we feel it's important to keep working."
EI capped the year with a cover story entitled "Wave of New Plant Construction Carries into 2002," announcing that the publication would begin publishing a U.S. Ethanol Plant Construction List on a bimonthly basis. "The list will serve as a valuable resource during this time of rapid of rapid industry growth," the article stated.

EI ushered in 2002 with a full-color cover and a very big announcement: "After seven exceptional years, The Energy Independent newsletter has outgrown its own pages and will be replaced by Ethanol Producer Magazine next month…"
And Ethanol Producer Magazine (EPM) was born.
EPM made its debut at the RFA National Ethanol Conference in San Diego in February 2002. The full-color, glossy publication was a symbol of the growth of the ethanol industry. It was immediately embraced by the industry and viewed as a way for the growing number of ethanol industry vendors to get their messages out to hundreds of future producers reading the publication.

In March of that year, EPM reported on the "Great RFS Compromise" that was cemented between ethanol and petroleum industry leaders at the RFA's National Ethanol Conference. Meanwhile, the industry's rapid expansion continued, rising to 2.2 billion gallons of annual production capacity. Plants were being built at an unprecedented pace. In June, EPM reported that there were 15 ethanol plants under construction, representing over 430 mmgy. That month, EPM reported that CVEC had broken ground on a major expansion project that would double the production capacity of the plant.

EPM reported in July that over 1,000 people from 22 nations attended the 2002 FEW in Springfield, Ill. Angela Graf, BBI International Conference and Meeting Planning Director, credited the success of the event to sponsors and industry partners. "Their support helps bring the event together year after year," she told EPM. "It's truly a collaborative effort and a real testament to the vibrancy of our industry."
As EPM's first year progressed, so did the stories: professional profiles, plant profiles, in-depth stories on policy, research and development, business and events. EPM had become the ethanol industry's trade journal.

With a growing editorial staff, EPM entered 2003 with an improved look and with it, renewed confidence. The magazine kicked off year two with a cover story on the construction of VeraSun Energy's 100-mmgy dry mill ethanol plant in Aurora, S.D., and a guide to planned and proposed ethanol plants across the United States. The magazine provided in-depth coverage of the 2003 National Ethanol Conference in February, as more than 650 people gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz., despite a pounding snowstorm on the East Coast that left many people unable to attend. The RFA's message was familiar: "The most cost-effective patriot missile the United States can build is a comprehensive energy bill that reduces America's dependence on foreign oil…," Dinneen told the crowd in Scottsdale.
2003 was a dynamic year of growth for ethanol. EPM covered the industry's progress while it produced an awesome 2.8 billion gallons of fuel. Along with new plant construction, perhaps the biggest story of the year was the transition from MTBE to ethanol in California. By December, 80 percent of the state's gasoline was being blended with ethanol. Towards the end of the year, New York and Connecticut followed suit and started using ethanol as well, bringing the total new market volume on the West and East Coasts to 1.4 billion gallons.

In April 2003, EPM's cover story focused on ethanol plant construction, asking, "How Long Will the Boom Last?" The world's leading ethanol plant builders and technology providers helped EPM bring perspective to the industry's rapid growth. "The stars are aligned for ethanol," said Fagen Inc. CEO Ron Fagen.

The news kept coming in 2003, keeping the pages of EPM filled with interesting and informative stories month after month. The year was marked with milestones: 1,200 people attended the FEW in Sioux Falls, S.D., while seven ethanol plants completed construction and began producing.
Half way through 2004, the ethanol industry is showing no signs of slowing down. In early May, EPM reported 12 ethanol plants under construction representing over 465 mmgy of new capacity. In May, EPM's cover story, "Proposed Ethanol Plant List 2004" documented over 50 ethanol projects in the planning stages nationwide. As the industry continues to push for a comprehensive energy bill with a renewable fuels standard, nothing seems to be able to slow its progress. EPM and other BBI International publications are also growing, thanks in large part to the support of ethanol industry suppliers and service providers that are driving industry progress. We look forward to serving the industry for many years to come. We thank our advertisers and readers for a giving us a decade of growth and progress.

Tom Bryan is the Managing Editor of Ethanol Producer Magazine.  


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