Editor's Note

The industry needs to make glycerin market development a top priority
By Tom Byran | September 01, 2006
I'm writing this month's editor's note from Minneapolis, Minn., where BBI International, publisher of Biodiesel Magazine, is hosting the inaugural International Distillers Grains Conference & Trade Show (IDGC). The conference will draw more than 350 people, predominantly from the United States but also from other nations. That, by most counts, makes it the largest distillers grains event in the world, not bad for a first-time conference.

If you're not familiar with distillers grains, it's the primary coproduct of dry-grind grain ethanol production. It is, by and large, an animal feed ingredient that's gaining increasing acceptance as a significant regular staple-one that is cost- and nutrient-competitive with soy meal and corn itself-in the rations of dairy and beef cattle, swine, and poultry. With the rapid expansion of the U.S. ethanol industry, distillers grains production is expected to hit 17 million tons by 2012, and perhaps 25 million tons by 2016. This massive level of production is expected to create market opportunities for the product that prompt feed manufacturers and livestock producers throughout North America and abroad can take advantage of.

As the international biodiesel industry continues its fast-paced expansion, parallels can be drawn between its primary by-product and distillers grains. As you will read in this month's cover story, "Combating the Glycerin Glut," which begins on page 38, many existing and would-be U.S. biodiesel producers are grappling with business plans affected by the growth of crude glycerin on the world market. As Biodiesel Magazine staff writer Dave Nilles points out, with up to 400 MMgy of additional biodiesel production being built or on the drawing board, glycerin is becoming a big issue.

The U.S. biodiesel industry is expected to produce an estimated 1.4 billion pounds of glycerin between 2006 and 2015, and could produce as much as 200 million pounds this year alone. Where's it all going to end up? Replacing petroleum-based chemicals appears to be the real prize for glycerin producers-and the direction many industry experts say offers the best solution to avoiding a glut of product on the world market. While companies begin to commercialize technologies and processes that use biodiesel-derived glycerin for products such as polyols, dust suppressants and pharmaceutical products, another more basic use for the by-product is emerging.

As the article points out, the floor value of any material can be determined by the point at which it can be used as an energy source. The same thing has been discussed in the distillers grains business for years, and people are still talking about burning the ethanol coproduct to supplement ethanol plant power. Of course, burning distillers grains and glycerin is a sort of last resort that is best avoided, and that's precisely what the ethanol/distillers grains industry is trying to accomplish with events like the IDGC.

The conference is expected to become an annual forum for industry stakeholders to learn about and discuss distillers grains marketing, process technology, analytical measurement and terminology, and animal feed nutrition-as well as non-feed applications for the product. It's all about bringing end users, producers, marketers, animal health professionals, researchers and service providers together to network and build valuable new relationships in a booming young business. I can clearly envision a future event that seeks to accomplish the same thing for glycerin. I'm not sure if that will happen in the near-term, but in the meantime, we should embrace industry events that shine a spotlight on glycerin market development. It's an issue that's not going away.
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