Report Says Ethanol Plant Emissions Rise With Coal

A new report by researchers at an Ames company says coal-powered ethanol plants release as much as 92% more carbon dioxide than those powered by natural gas. Carbon dioxide is a gas scientists often blame for global warming.

The coal vs. natural gas issue has surfaced in a pending decision by the Des Moines City Council concerning two competing proposals to build an ethanol plant in southeast Des Moines, within the city limits. Council members on Dec. 4 are scheduled to select one of the two ethanol plant proposals. Coal would power a plant proposed by Lincolnway Energy of Nevada, Iowa. The plant proposed by Vision Fuels of Urbandale, Iowa, would use natural gas.

Council members are divided on which proposal to choose—and the split has caused delays in moving forward on the $200 million project. On November 1 the council voted 3 to 3 and tabled the decision to the December 4 meeting.

Pros and cons of coal vs. natural gas

The city owns the property where the ethanol plants are proposed to be built, thus the city council has to decide which company to sell the land to, explains Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie. He has supported Lincolnway's proposal. He now says the information he is gathering from experts on emissions will help determine if he will change his vote away from the coal-fired plant and instead support the Vision Fuels proposal to build the plant.

Lincolnway, which is owned by 900 farmers and other local investors who reside in central Iowa, already operates a very successful coal-fired plant at Nevada in Story County. Lincolnway officials point out that a coal-powered plant has greater flexibility to use alternative energy sources that will likely be developed in the near future. Natural gas is higher priced than coal.

Backers of the coal-powered plant believe Lincolnway's plan holds the most potential of someday using renewable energy sources such as switchgrass to power the plant. Supporters of using coal also point out that the large amount of natural gas used by ethanol plants could drive heating costs up for people who live in the Des Moines area.

No limit on carbon dioxide emissions

The carbon dioxide report was released last week by Frontline BioEnergy--the Ames consulting firm. Frontline is promoting technological advancements to convert plants into a mixture of gases that could be used to replace some natural gas burned in ethanol plants. Frontline is not associated with either of the two companies competing to build the Des Moines plant.

State and federal environmental laws do not limit carbon dioxide emissions, although more than 150 other chemicals or compounds are regulated. Technology exists to capture carbon dioxide emissions but it costs more to do that and capturing the carbon dioxide is not required by law. If that "capture" technology were used at the coal-fired plant, the price to use coal would be about the same as natural gas, according to Frontline officials.

The plant would be built on a 166-acre plot owned by the city near Vandalia Road on Des Moines' southeast side. The two proposals vary, but each would create about 50 jobs and generate at least $1.6 million a year in property taxes for Des Moines. The ethanol plant would be a major new development in an area of the city that is run-down with older factories, abandoned buildings and junkyards. Des Moines leaders want to clean up the area and turn it into a technology park. They want an ethanol plant to be built there, to serve as a catalyst for future developments on the 230-acre parcel of land.

Iowa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Planned

Broin Companies, the nation's largest dry mill ethanol producer, announced November 20 its plans to build a cellulose-to-ethanol production facility in Iowa with a completion date expected in 2009. This will be the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the U.S., meaning it will use cornstalks and leaves—not just the kernels—to produce the renewable motor fuel.

The announcement came during a joint press conference at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines with Jeff Broin, CEO of Broin Companies, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and Iowa Governor-Elect Chet Culver.

"This is an important day for both the Broin Companies and the ethanol industry," said Jeff Broin. "The need to commercialize cellulosic ethanol is apparent as the United States continues to move away from its dependency on oil. We have been working very hard at developing technologies and advancements the past several years to position Broin as a leader in this area and the project in Emmetsburg is a major step toward reaching that goal."

Plant to be converted to use stover

Voyager Ethanol, at Emmetsburg in northern Iowa, will be converted from a 50 million gallon per year (MGPY) conventional corn dry mill facility into a 125 million gallon per year commercial scale biorefinery. It will be designed to use advanced corn fractionation and lignocellulosic conversion technologies to produce ethanol from corn fiber and corn stover as well as corn grain.

Broin, headquartered in South Dakota, has applied for matching grant funds through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assist with the project.

"Today's announcement represents another significant investment in Iowa's economy," said Gov. Vilsack. "Thanks to our commitment to renewable fuels, we are changing Iowa's economic landscape. This new facility in Emmetsburg is a solid investment in emerging renewable fuels technology. By finding new ways to produce ethanol, we are providing new jobs to Iowans and cementing our position as the leader in renewable energy.

"I congratulate Broin Companies and the people of Emmetsburg for this exciting investment in Iowa's renewable energy future," said Governor-Elect Culver. "This plant represents exactly the kind of advancement in the alternative fuels industry that I will make the focus of our economic development efforts. This facility will mean new jobs and millions of dollars for Iowa's economy. In my administration, as the renewable energy economy continues to grow rapidly, we will continue the progress we have made in attracting firms like the Broin Companies to Iowa to create more opportunities."

Project expansion will cost $200 million

Known as Project LIBERTY, the expansion will use an existing infrastructure with estimated costs for the project at just over $200 million dollars. Pilot research for this project has been conducted and the expansion is slated to begin in February with a commercial production timeline set approximately 30 months later.

Project LIBERTY stands for Launch of an Integrated Biorefinery with Eco-sustainable and Renewable Technologies in Y2009. "This project will create 11% more ethanol from a bushel of corn and 27% more ethanol from an acre of corn while using 83% less energy than what is needed to operate a corn to ethanol plant," said Jeff Broin.

Technology efforts to develop Project LIBERTY began several years ago and escalated when Broin and the DOE jointly funded a five-year research initiative to develop and improve dry mill fractionation with the assistance of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and South Dakota State University. The project provided for the commercialization of Broin's fractionation technology, or "BFrac", which together with Broin's raw starch hydrolysis process (BPX), creates the foundation for biorefining in the future.

The results of BFrac include producing higher ethanol yields, but more importantly it creates additional value-added products and streams – including the intended use of fiber in the production of cellulose to ethanol.

Voyager Ethanol began operations in March of 2005. In addition to producing 125 million gallons per year of ethanol after the expansion, the Voyager facility will create 100,000 tons of Dakota Gold Corn Germ Dehydrated and 120,000 tons of Dakota Gold HP annually as animal feed coproducts.

Background on the Broin Companies

Broin, the largest dry mill ethanol producer in the United States, is an established leader in the biorefining industry through technology development, production capacity, plant management and marketing. The 20-year-old company currently manages 18 plants in the United States while marketing more than one billion gallons of ethanol annually.

Broin has a reputation of fast, successful commercialization of innovative technology that includes recent patent-pending raw starch hydrolysis technology (BPX) and grain fractionation (BFrac). Broin's ability to collaborate with other industry leaders to further research and development has positioned the company as a world leader in several areas, most notably the drive to commercialize cellulose to ethanol production.

Harkin applauds plans for new facility

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, a leading proponent of increasing alternative energy production and use, also applauded Broin Companies and its plan to build a cellulose-to-ethanol production facility in Emmetsburg.

"This is an exciting time for renewable fuels," said Harkin. "The opening of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg is another step toward true energy security. There's no question that plants like this provide good jobs, economic growth and better farm income for rural America while helping decrease our painful and dangerous addiction to foreign oil. That's why we must continue to aggressively expand our production of biofuels and why I will continue pushing in Washington to keep our renewable fuels industry growing."

On October 31, 2006, Harkin, who is the incoming Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel Bodman in support of DOE funding for the Broin Emmetsburg project. In the letter, Harkin explained the new plant holds "great promise for helping our nation wean itself from foreign oil, bolstering the rural economy and improving environmental quality."

Supports aggressive new ethanol legislation

Earlier this year, Harkin introduced aggressive new legislation that will help reduce America's dangerous and costly dependence on foreign oil while giving the country's drivers access to more ethanol and biodiesel at fuel pumps.

Harkin's plan provides a comprehensive approach to boost production and use of ethanol and biodiesel in motor vehicle fuel. His bill calls for a much higher renewable fuels standard (RFS), greater availability of E85 pumps and a requirement that within 10 years nearly every new vehicle sold in the U.S. is capable of using fuel with up to 85% ethanol.

As Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee during the writing of the 2002 federal farm legislation, Harkin established the first-ever renewable energy title in a farm bill, designed to increase farm-based renewable energy such as ethanol, biodiesel and wind power.

New Campaign Encourages Responsible Livestock Farming

A unique multi-media educational campaign titled "Good Neighbors Building Trust" has been launched by the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers (CSIF) to provide farm families with the information they need to responsibly and successfully grow their livestock farms.

The centerpiece of the campaign is a 16-minute DVD and accompanying information packet offering specific insight on exceeding regulations, identifying the best locations for new livestock farms, safeguarding environmental resources and enhancing neighbor relations. The DVD is being distributed this week to nearly 20,000 farmers.

"Efforts by the coalition to provide families with the tools and resources they need have been extremely successful," says Kirk Leeds, president of the CSIF board of directors. "This organization prides itself on meeting face-to-face with families, walking them through regulatory compliance issues and assisting them in identifying the best locations for new farms."

Many families have received assistance

CSIF is made up of Iowa's crop and livestock commodity organizations and the Iowa Farm Bureau. Leeds is chief executive officer of the Iowa Soybean Association. He says the public's response to the coalition's services has been overwhelming. Nearly 600 families involved in all facets of livestock farming – from the use of open lots and pastures to indoor, climate-controlled barns – have received assistance from the coalition since its launch in May of 2004.

The educational campaign and DVD, says Leeds, enhances the organization's ability to reach more families with information vital to growing their livestock farms. Testimonials from farmers and Iowa State University experts highlight the many steps farmers take to care for their families, neighbors and environment.

The DVD also promotes rural-urban relations by encouraging farmers and neighbors to discuss expectations and to maintain open communications throughout the planning and construction phases of new livestock farms.

"Strong farms create and sustain strong and vibrant communities," says CSIF executive director Aaron Putze. "Livestock farmers depend on bankers, lenders, small manufacturers, electricians, veterinarians, excavators, construction companies and a host of local businesses to get the job done. Livestock farmers and local communities prosper together when they work together."

Livestock bolster Iowa's economy

Research by ISU reinforces this shared approach. "We found that $19.5 billion a year leaves this state in the form of livestock and livestock products," says ISU economist Mark Imerman. "That's about 10% of the $185 billion in total industrial production in Iowa. That 10% does not count what we eat here or consume here; what doesn't leave the state. Ten percent of any economy is significant."

The "Good Neighbors Building Trust" campaign continues the Coalition's efforts to keep farm families on the land and active in their communities.

"Livestock farming is one of the things we do best in Iowa – it's who we are," says Kevin Van Manen, who grows crops and raises livestock with his wife Julie and family near Kellogg. "The Coalition provided us with the information and support we needed to stay on the farm full time. Without the Coalition's help and the income livestock provides, we would have had to give up part of the farm and pursue some off-farm employment."

"That would have been extremely difficult because there's no place we'd rather be than on the farm," he adds. "We wanted to share this message with others and being involved with the DVD was a great opportunity to do just that."

Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers

CSIF was launched May 11, 2004. Its mission is to grow Iowa communities one farmer and one neighbor at a time through the responsible growth of livestock farming. Six prominent farm groups founded and continue to help fund the organization: Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association and Iowa Soybean Association.

For more information about the coalition's services and the importance of livestock farming in Iowa, log on to  

Key sponsors of "Good Neighbors Building Trust" include Farm Credit Services of America, the Iowa Soybean Association and Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids.

For more information about the Coalition or to request a copy of the DVD, call (800) 932-2436 or log on to the Web site.

Farmers Doing Too Much Tillage This Fall

"We are seeing an awful lot of tillage occurring in Iowa this fall," observes Barb Stewart, state agronomist for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Some farmers are making more than one pass. They say they are having trouble with a build up of too much crop residue.

"I want to remind farmers they don't have to do that much tillage," says Stewart. "It's expensive, it wastes energy and it opens the land up for soil erosion and runoff which impairs water quality in our streams, rivers and lakes."

Tillage in the fall creates several problems in addition, she adds. "The more you till the soil the more you destroy the soil structure. You may get a boost in yield that first year following fall tillage, when those microbes are releasing the nutrients for the crop. But in the long-run, you'll be hurting yourself."

Do tillage in spring or use no-till or strip-till

There are a few exceptions such as on heavy ground--the gumbo soils in bottomland. "But as a general rule, farmers in Iowa can get most of the tillage work done in the spring if the ground needs to be tilled," says Stewart.

"We advise farmers to do their tillage in spring or consider some of the options such as no-till or strip-till," she adds. "The corn seedling tends to be a weaker seedling than a soybean seedling; corn isn't as robust when it comes to getting started in the spring. Sometimes corn needs a little extra help to get it up and out of the ground. Instead of tillage, I suggest farmers use row cleaners on the planter to get the crop residue off the row where the seedling will be coming up."

Using row cleaners to leave a clean strip of dark soil to plant the seed into will help warm the strip of soil up a little faster and assist the seedling in getting up and growing. Row cleaners on a no-till planter really help to make no-till work.

Do you need to till for corn on corn?

If you feel like you really must till the ground, use strip till, advises Stewart. Tilling that strip in the fall, right over the row, can be a big help in getting the seedling up in the spring when you plant and yet fall strip till can still provide a lot of the benefit of the straight no-till. The improved soil structure, soil quality and leaving that crop residue on the soil surface in between the rows are big benefits in improving and protecting the soil.

Some farmers say they are doing more tillage than usual this fall because they are going to plant more corn-on-corn acres next spring. That means planting corn into cornstalk residue, which is harder than planting corn into bean residue. "These farmers want to bury more crop residue to give the corn a better chance at emerging and getting a strong, fast start next spring," notes Stewart. "But I advise farmers to get a good set of row cleaners for their planter and avoid having to do so much tillage, especially fall tillage."

Australian Wheat Monopoly to Split

Australia's AWB, the monopoly wheat exporter that has been caught in a serious bribery scandal, announced Wednesday that it will split into two separate companies. AWB chairman Brendan Stewart also told the Australian Stock Exchange that he would step down after the split.

An Australian commission recently released an extensive report finding that AWB paid between $200 and $300 million in bribes and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime between 1999 and 2003. AWB took advantage of the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq while deliberately deceiving the U.N., the report found.

Stewart expresses regret for the company's actions and says the company's board is "committed to making significant changes to ensure it doesn't happen again."

With the move, AWB will separate the 'single desk' wheat marketing system from the publicly traded grain trading, banking and Landmark farm operations.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard had said he would recommend on Dec. 5 whether or not Australia should abandon its monopoly export system, leading some to call AWB's split a pre-emptive move.

U.S. May Take Action Against AWB

AWB, the Australian wheat company found to have paid nearly $300 million in bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime, will likely face U.S. action. Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Norm Coleman, R-Minn., have promised to further investigate AWB, and Ag Secretary Mike Johanns says the USDA will proceed to bar AWB from participating in USDA export credit programs.

"While I understand that the Government of Australia intends to pursue criminal proceedings in this case, I have directed that USDA resume the debarment process," Johanns says.

An Australian panel, lead by former Supreme Court Justice Terence Cole, found that AWB paid Saddam Hussein's government $290 in bribes and kickbacks while both the Iraqi government and AWB used the U.N. oil-for-food program for their own profit between 1999 and 2003.

AWB agreed not to participate in the USDA credit export program in November 2005 during the Government of Australia's investigation.

The U.S. wheat lobby expects AWB to face a congressional probe into whether or not its actions violated American laws. The lobby has criticized AWB's monopoly on Australian wheat exports and, along with Cole, point to the monopoly as part of the problem.

"We view the monopoly as a source of this problem, of the culture that developed at AWB that led to these illegal actions," USWA president Alan Tracy says.

U.S. Looking for More Canadian Beef

USDA sent a plan to the White House Friday for increasing the amount of beef the U.S. imports from Canada.

Previous attempts to expand cattle and beef imports from Canada stalled due to concerns about the effectiveness of Canada's safeguards against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also called 'mad cow disease.'

Authorities have been weighing the issue of importing older cattle, which have a higher risk of carrying BSE. Although both the U.S. and Canada have taken steps to make sure diseased cattle tissue does not contaminate cattle feed - the only known way for cattle to contract BSE - Canada found an infected cow this summer that had been born five years after the ban on cattle remains in cattle feed.

The U.S. imports about 12% of its beef, with about a quarter of beef imports coming from Canada.

Corn and Pork Groups Discuss Distillers Grains

Members of corn and pork groups discussed a potential relationship between their industries through byproducts of ethanol production as hog feed at a Nov. 20 seminar in Des Moines, Iowa, titled "Distillers Grains: Implications for the U.S. Pork Industry."

"The real mission of the meeting was to explore the research needed to help the pork industry move forward with distillers grains," says Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board.

The session focused on research dealing with distillers dried grains with solubles as feed for hogs, as well as the economic impacts of DDGS and ethanol production on feed prices.

According to the National Corn Growers Association, DDGS can reduce gut health problems and possibly increase litter size weaned and piglet growth rate, but much of the pork industry's concern about the growth of the ethanol industry deals with economics and rising feed prices. NCGA suggests that DDGS could provide a cheap feed alternative for pork producers.

"A couple of speakers pointed out corn yield improvements can help address much of the needed additional corn supply required to satisfy ethanol and livestock production," Hutchens says. "I felt it was a meeting that helped open doors of better communication and forward thinking to make sure we all understand the issues around the new paradigm of corn-to-ethanol with a coproduct that can be better utilized in swine rations with some changes in processing and application."

APHIS deregulates Bayer CropScience’s LL601

Following a request from Bayer CropScience, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced it will deregulate the company’s genetically engineered LL601 (LibertyLink) trait. The USDA agency made the announcement on Nov. 24 following what it termed a “thorough review of scientific evidence.”

The deregulation had been expected by those in the rice industry.

The APHIS decision “is one result of a robust effort to restore marketability to U.S. rice,” said a USA Rice Federation press release.

“Deregulation is a necessary step in ensuring the stability and viability for U.S. rice in all markets,” said Al Montna, USA Rice Federation chairman. “But we realize there is still a great deal more work to do.

“The APHIS decision won’t automatically re-open markets currently closed to U.S. rice, but U.S. regulatory approval should help reassure customers that the U.S. government believes LL601 to be safe for consumption and the environment.”

On July 31, Bayer notified the USDA that trace amounts of LL601 had been discovered in commercial, long-grain rice. Several weeks later, USDA announced the finding and rice markets reacted negatively.

“FDA has concluded that the presence of LL601 in the food and feed supply poses no safety concerns,” said an APHIS press release. “An investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the release and whether any USDA regulations were violated is nearly complete.

“Deregulation, or regulatory approval of a particular product, is handled separately from determinations of compliance with APHIS regulations. USDA has approved LL601 for deregulation, while an investigation of compliance is ongoing…

“APHIS oversees the development and introduction (importation, interstate movement and environmental release) of GE organisms. Deregulated items and their progeny are considered safe for the environment and can be grown without APHIS oversight. Developers may also need to consult with FDA and the EPA before commercialization.”

To see the final APHIS environmental assessment visit


Corn+Soybean Digest

Trade Negotiations Gear Up To Resume

Trade Negotiations Gear Up To Resume

There are indications the World Trade Organization (WTO) will resume the Doha round negotiations, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) says.

Last week WTO Director General Pascal Lamy told members of the group, “As we all know, informal contacts among members, both in Geneva and beyond, have been going on since the summer. The number and frequency of these contacts have now increased, which I think is another sign of this growing and widely shared desire to make the most of every opportunity to lay the foundations for further progress.”

Lamy urged members to begin “expert” talks on technical issues as a prelude to full-scale negotiations between governments. He stressed negotiators must make “significant” progress by early spring if there is to be any hope of concluding negotiations by the end of 2007.

NCGA has consistently voiced its support for and commitment to the WTO process. At this time, NCGA is encouraging the WTO to move beyond the organization's focus on farm support in favor of a more balanced approach that includes market access.

“NCGA has told Congress and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab that our trade partners must provide more market access for U.S. agriculture exports,” says NCGA President Ken McCauley. “We continue to support the current U.S. proposal, and in the meantime, we will continue to work with President George W. Bush’s administration and industry groups in securing beneficial bilateral trade agreements.”