Chat about ethanol with Greg Krissek
August 17, 2007
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
Ethanol has been touted as the fuel of the future.
Made with a renewable resource - mostly corn - vehicles running on ethanol will help the environment, put money in the pockets of family farmers and reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil, its proponents say.
But ethanol is coming under increased scrutiny.
Some are concerned that the recent increase in corn crops used to make ethanol will further deplete dwindling groundwater reserves, and increase the use of fertilizers that run off into waterways and kill aquatic life.
Regardless of the debate, more Kansas farmers are joining the effort to produce ethanol.
There are 3.7 million acres of corn being grown in Kansas this year, about 8 percent more than last year, according to Kansas Agricultural Statistics.
<b>Greg Krissek</b> is director of government affairs for ICM Inc., a Colwich-based company that is involved with the development of approximately 60 percent of the ethanol plants in the country. He'll take your questions on the topic.
Good morning. This is Dennis Anderson, managing editor of the Lawrence Journal-World. Our guest today is Greg Krissek, director of government affairs for ICM Inc., a Colwich-based company that is involved with the development of approximately 60 percent of the ethanol plants in the country. Hello Greg.
Good morning Dennis - I'm looking forward to our conversation today.
We have limited time this morning so I will get right to the readers' questions.
A couple of questions -- is an effort underway to build a pipeline to the Northeastern U.S. With their need to replace MTBE, such a new ethanol-only pipeline would make sense.
Are any current or planned ethanol plants, in the U.S. or elsewhere, that use sugar beets as its feedstock? Northwest Kansas used to be a prime spot for growing them.
As to pipelines, proposed federal legislation would study the feasiblity of the pipeline to the northeast US. I believe we'll acutally see shorter regional efforts, maybe gathering pipelines in the midwest gain interest before the large-scale national effort.
Sugar beets to ethanol have been tried in the US 10-15 years ago, but as the initial size of plants has grown larger, generally sugar beet production has not been of the quantity to support the larger plants.
Can you talk about the use of vacuum stills, solar powerd stills and the use of depleted mash as fertiliser and animal feed?
I do not have much info regarding vacuum or solar powered stills - but modern ethanol plants utilize extensive energy saving techniques including vacuum-based molecular sieves which remove the final 5% of water - taking the ethanol from 190 proof to 200 proof. I am not aware of solar energy being used currently but I will check with our engineering staff.
In today's grain-based ethanol production, one-third of each bushel processed remains as high-protein animal feed or distiller's grains. This feed is commonly used in rations for dairy cows, beef cattle, and can be used by swine and poultry. I am aware that several startup companies are using the mash as fertilizer - but generally the economic return is greater from the feed sales so I'm not sure how much widespread success has occurred as of yet.
I have heard from mechanics that ethanol being made from corn never actually becomes a complete liquid and because of that, it may have very fine granuals that potentially clog the injection system? Is that true?
No - the ethanol produced and marketed into the fuel marketplace must meet ASTM specs (engineering standards for fuels and vehicles) in order to be mixed with gasoline. Acutally it's my understanding that ethanol-blends will keep the fueling system cleaner since alcohol will act as a cleaning solvent in your engine. In the past, if deposits were in the engine the ethanol blends might clean the engine and residue would be caught in the fuel filter. Today almost every gasoline marketer includes a detergent in their gasoline so these residues rarely happen in engines.
Would you give us some information regarding cellulosic ethanol and alteratives to corn such as saw grass.
Current estimates seem to indicate that grain-based ethanol could supply up to 15 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Several efforts are proposed to grow total ethanol production to about 36 billions gallons annually. Today the technology exists to crate ethanol from a number of cellulosic sources - wood waste, switchgrass, corn stover, wheat straw, miscanthus, forage sorghums to name a few. But the cost per gallon to produce ethanol from these sources remains at least 2-3 times greater than grain-based ethanol. The technology that will be used in these conversion processes will either be a sugar fermentation platorm (similar to today's technology) or a thermal platform (more like an oil refinery process). Significant work is underway in both the public and private sectors to reduce costs for cellulose processing - but each feedstock and conversion process will take much shakedown testing to create the commercially competitive plants. We estimate this is still a good five years away from commercial application and cost-effectiveness.
Everyone talks like farmers are the only ones who benefit from ethanol. Who else benefits? Wouldn't the communities and even the state benefit from the economic growth that an ethanol plant brings, just like any industry.
Yes - exactly. There are several studies from other states and at the national level about the economic benefits to the community and state - both from the initial construction and the subsequent operation of the plant. The 2007 Kansas Legislature appropriated a small amount of funds for a Kansas specific economic impact study to be completed this fall. The effort is being coordinated by the Kansas Dept. of Commerce and we look forward to seeing the results later this year.
David Victor, senior fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations has noted in an article entitled "Learning from Brazil" that:
"First is that ethanol, with current technology, will do little to sever our dependence on imported energy. Today's approach involves growing a crop-sugar in Brazil, corn in the United States-and then fermenting the fruits to yield fuel. Sugar plants in Brazil's climate are a lot more efficient at converting sunlight to biomass than is corn in the Midwest, but U.S. policy nonetheless favors corn (and imposes tariffs on imported sugar) because the program is really a scheme to deliver heartland votes rather than a commercially viable fuel. " He further notes that ethanol contributes less than 10% of the liquid energy fuels produced by Brazil, that most of Brazils increased energy production is from deep sea petroleum. Other researchers have noted that, at best, there is a very slight net energy gain in producing ethanol from corn, and a number of scientists have concluded that the energy is negative.
Given the effects on the environment and the large energy input required from petroleum products in producing ethanol, how can the ~$0.60 subsidy per gallon and a government policy of promoting more ethanol use be justified?
It has long been accepted public policy in the US to provide incentives to various industries - especially those related energy security. Several years ago a federal government study showed that for every $1 incentive to ethanol - there was $11 to the oil industry. A real advantage about ethanol is that it helps with multiple public policy goals - energy security, environmental pluses, and economic development. And it fits well in our current liquid fueling infrastructure.
The most recent public studies with modern ethanol technology show a net energy gain with ethanol - 1 Btu in gains 1.67 Btus. Gasoline is a negative - 1 Btu in gains only 0.8 Btus.
Ethanol is part of our energy solution - we are building a bridge to the future and it will serve an important part along with gasoline and many other alternative fuels.
Where is the closest ethanol plant, and are tours given there?
You should be able to find a list at www.ethanolkansas.com which is the website for the Kansas Association of Ethanol Processors.
There is a plant in Garnett, Kansas which may be the closest to Douglas County - I'm not sure what their current policy is for tours but a quick call to them would answer that.
We are out of time. I want to thank the readers for your questions and Greg Krissek for joining us today.