Feel the Heat

By Ron Kotrba | July 15, 2011

Biodiesel is hot again (we already knew that, right?), this was the predominant sentiment shared by several speakers and attendees at this year’s Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, held in Indianapolis in late June. It may seem strange for biodiesel to be a topic of conversation at the world’s largest ethanol conference, but with so much focus on ethanol plants diversifying coproduct streams—specifically the growing popularity of backend corn oil extraction—biodiesel received a considerable amount of attention.

In addition to all of the peripheral talk about biodiesel, and how its resurgence is boding well for ethanol producers by putting upward pressure on corn oil prices, thereby enhancing ethanol producers’ bottom lines, I moderated the FEW’s one-and-only biodiesel-dedicated panel. The speakers included David Winsness, the chief technology officer of Greenshift Corp., supplier of corn oil extraction units for the ethanol industry; Jake Ferris, a retired professor from my alma mater Michigan State University, who spoke about his econometric model on the economics behind biodiesel production from corn oil; Ernie DeMartino, president and CEO of Biodiesel Experts International LLC, whose presentation focused on his company’s work with Israel-based TransBiodiesel on enzymatic biodiesel production; and Dave Elsenbast with Renewable Energy Group Inc., who gave a solid speech on the current state of the biodiesel industry and REG’s integration of corn oil as one of many feedstocks the company uses to produce its fuel.

I’ve said this before about our industry, but the diversity of the panel—the largest U.S. biodiesel producer, a researcher, an equipment maker helping to create more feedstock, and a biodiesel producer working on an alternative approach to biodiesel production—exemplified nicely the fact that this industry, despite its ups and downs, is rife with forward thinkers and innovators who will continue to push the envelope on what is possible in the world of methyl ester refining. While the future of the biodiesel tax credit is uncertain, what remains steadfast is this industry’s ability to adapt and progress, no matter the political climate. And that makes me very proud to be a part of it.

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