Earth to Cellulosic Ethanol: Glad You’re Here, What Took So Long?

Jim Lane  Part II of II Cellulosic ethanol arrives at scale “The five years away forever” put to rest but are there troubling waters still ahead? For whom, and why? There’s a gigantic disconnect between two sections in the country as to whether the United States should be celebrating the success or the failure of cellulosic biofuels. Supporters and detractors alike saying that the wave of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refineries is a new wave in technology or the latest round in a wave of unimportant hype. We looked at the supporters, the detractors, the...

The Green Plains Way

Jim Lane As the renewables industry searches for effective business models, a strong one emerges in its midst. We look at Green Plains (GPRE) and its businesses. A recurring theme among the 300+ delegates at ABLC Next this week in San Francisco is the recognition that successful companies change the world not science projects, or failed companies and that any route that leads across the Valley of Death to commercial success is the first step towards a sustainable economy, and that strong lead products are the oxen that get settlers across the desert. Renewable...

Ethanol Producers Climb to New Highs

Shares of ethanol producers extended their recent rally Monday, as oil refiners continued their rush to substitute ethanol for a toxic gasoline additive before the summer driving season shifts into gear. The enthusiasm for ethanol is tied to the fate of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), an additive mixed into gasoline to reduce pollution. However, studies have found that MTBE to be carcinogenic if it seeps into a water source. States are increasingly banning MBTE due to contamination concerns. Companies wishing to comply with new laws and worried about the potential for legal liability are...

Ethanol shortage could up gas prices

USA Today Money comments about a potential for future increases in gas prices and also shortages in Ethanol. "Gasoline prices will be unusually high and shortages might occur this summer, because the U.S. ethanol industry can't keep up with the demand for fuel-grade alcohol to mix with gasoline, the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration told a Senate committee Wednesday." On Wednesday of this week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee met to discuss ethanol as a substitute for MTBE, a clean-air additive in gasoline. This potential change will increase the cost of refining...

Cosan: No Haven for Ethanol Investors

by Debra Fiakas CFA The stark reality of basing their business model on a food commodity has been brought into sharp focus for ethanol producers.  The drought settling across the U.S. corn crop is helping drive up corn prices for hog producers, chicken farms and ethanol plants alike.  Investors who simply must have a position in ethanol might think the sugarcane-based ethanol producers could offer a safe haven against the supply and margin squeeze that is certain to hobble GreenPlains Renewable Energy (GPRE:  Nasdaq), Pacific Ethanol (PEIX:  Nasdaq) and Poet (private), among others relying on corn feedstock....
corn pile

A Simple Fix To Farmer’s Tariff Woes?

by Jim Lane As most know by now, the US and China have fired opening salvos in a trade war, with the US targeting a range of commodities including steel and aluminum, and China retaliating with, to date, stiff tariffs on a range of agricultural products, but primarily hitting soybeans and corn because of the volume of trade in those agricultural goods. Overall, China imports $24 billion of agricultural goods from the US and is a leading export market for the US. The trade wars prompted North Dakota farmer Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association, to state: “Farmers are...

The Ethanol Industry’s Persecution Complex

If the Ethanol industry is going to rehabilitate its image, it needs to understand the issues. Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA In his opening remarks at the 25th annual, 2009 Fuel Ethanol Workshop, Mike Bryan, the CEO of BBI International called on the attendees to "Take back control of the industry's image."   It's no secret that the ethanol industry is having problems, mostly, in my mind, due to a classic commodity squeeze: the industry has no pricing power either for its inputs (corn and natural gas,) or its products (ethanol, with a price which closely tracks gasoline.) ...

REX American: Culturally Frugal

by Debra Fiakas CFA Among the surviving public ethanol producers in the U.S. is REX American Resources (REX:  NYSE).  Based in Ohio, REX American is an ethanol fuel producer with owned nameplate capacity near 215 million gallons per year.  Additionally, the company distributes by-products of the ethanol production process, including distiller grains and non-food grade corn oil.  REX has full or partial ownership in six ethanol production plants located in the Ohio, South Dakota, Illinois and Minnesota. The company relies on corn feed stock for its dry milling ethanol production process.  Like any other ethanol...
GasolineGate

Report Alleges EPA Tests Skewed Against Ethanol By Oil Industry Influence

by Jim Lane In Washington, researchers for a report published by the Urban Air Initiative contend that “technical data that shows the nation has been exposed to decades of flawed test fuels and flawed driving tests, which in turn means flawed emissions results and mileage claims”.  The complete Beyond a Reasonable Doubt series from UAI is available here. Further, EPA emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that, according to a report from Boyden Grey & Associates, the Agency appears to have directly solicited financial contributions and technical input, “especially on the fuel matrix,” from an oil industry controlled research organization. Of the...

Ethanol and Biodiesel: Production Cost and Profitability

For a number of years, this (now old and outdated, but) very useful chart has been in circulation in energy circles, mapping the supply of energy to the world by looking not at prices, but at production costs. For one thing, it goes a long way to explaining why the price of oil can tumble so quickly when there is a fall off in demand, and explains why OPEC is troubled by unconventional oil in a way it is not so bothered by other energy sources such as renewable fuels. Renewables not only have been traditionally at the...

Coskata’s $100 million IPO: The 10-Minute Version

Jim Lane The first gas fermentation technology to come to the public markets: Coskata files its $100 million IPO. Here’s our 10-minute version of the filing, with a translation of the risks into English. In Illinois, Coskata has filed an S-1 registration statement for a proposed $100 million initial public offering. The number of shares to be offered in the proposed offering and the price range for the offering have not yet been determined. The lead book-running managers for the offering are Citigroup, Barclays and Piper Jaffray. The company is currently ranked #17 in the world...

Advantage Biodiesel

By Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA Because of rising fertilizer prices, farmers are planting more soybeans than corn.  Soybeans are a legume, meaning that they can fix their own nitrogen in the soil, meaning that they need less nitrogen fertilizer, the price of which is spiking due to rising natural gas prices.  Corn, in contrast, needs more nitrogen than most other crops.   High gas prices are rising because of Putin’s war on Ukraine, which is also preventing Ukrainian farmers from planting this year’s wheat crop, while sanctions are likely to disrupt wheat supplies from Russia as well. Corn and (to a lesser extent,...

Ethanol Blends: High Octane, Low Carbon, High Controversy

by Jim Lane, Biofuels Digest For every ethanol blend everywhere these days, there seems to be a war on. A war in India over 22% blends. A war in Brazil over exactly what baseline blend ratio (somewhere int he 20s) is ideal. A war on in Europe to roll back first-gen ethanol to around 2% blending. A war in New South Wales, Australia over whether there should be any ethanol mandating at all. A war in the US as conservatives aim to haul belnding down to 9.7% while ethanol producers have clearly aimed at a 15% baseline blend. And so on and...

Sweetwater and Pacific Ethanol Strike Supply Deal

Jim Lane In New York, Sweetwater Energy and Pacific Ethanol (PEIX) announced a project to supply customized industrial sugars for the production of cellulosic ethanol. The agreement supports the construction of a cellulosic biorefinery, contingent upon Sweetwater Energy obtaining the necessary financing and permits, at the Pacific Ethanol Stockton facility capable of producing up to 3.6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. Pacific Ethanol operates and manages four ethanol production facilities, which have a combined annual production capacity of 200 million gallons in Boardman, Oregon, Burley, Idaho and Stockton, California, and one idled facility is located in Madera, California....

An Interesting Way To Play Cellulosic Ethanol

Last Friday (Feb. 2), the Globe & Mail's business section (the G&M is Canada's top national newspaper) ran an interesting piece by a senior business writer on cellulosic ethanol. I wish there was a way to view this article for free, but, unfortunately, the G&M charges for access to certain of its articles, and this is one of them. The gist of the argument is as follows: (a) forget corn-based ethanol, the future lies with cellulosic (yyaawwnn...); (b) deep down inside, Bush knows this; (c) to make cellulosic ethanol competitive, you need super-enzymes that speed up the process...
American Coalition for ethanol logo

US Ethanol Industry Upset With 2019 Renewable Fuel Standard Proposal

The 2019 proposed US Renewable Fuel Standard proposed volumes attracted a major raspberry from the ethanol industry. As the American Coalition for Ethanol noted: “Unfortunately, EPA continues to take actions which undermine the letter and spirit of the statute and harm the rural economy. While refiners are reporting double-digit profits, the heart of America is being left behind. Farmers are losing money while refiners have the best of both worlds: fat profit margins and minimal RFS compliance costs. EPA needs to discard its refiner-win-at-all-costs mentality and get the RFS back on track.” “While the proposed rule purports to maintain the 15-billion-gallon conventional...
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