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Speakers will explore challenges of managing biofuels growth

Agriculture.com Staff 02/05/2007 @ 1:23pm

Anyone who has ever started a small business will tell you that rapid growth can be exciting -- and potentially disastrous.

That's exactly where the ethanol industry finds itself today -- growing beyond its founders' wildest dreams, with tightening margins, volatile commodities markets, and sometimes confused consumers.

On Tuesday, a group of select leaders from the biofuels industry will meet to hash out some compelling questions at a conference organized by Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture Online in Des Moines, Iowa. What do consumers really think of ethanol and biodiesel? Will President Bush's call for an Alternative Fuel Standard to cut gasoline use 20% in 10 years also mean that a 51-cent a gallon tax credit for ethanol will disappear? Can corn be bred to yield more fuel? What's happening today in the move toward making ethanol from cellulose? Or making biobutanol, another fuel that can be made from grains?

Managing the Biofuels Boom: A Catalyst for Success brings together speakers such as South Dakota farmer Owen Jones, whose co-op sells several blends of ethanol to consumers, and Executive Director of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition Phil Lampert. The coalition promotes the use of E-85, an 85% ethanol blend. They'll speak on a panel led by Tom Slunecka, Executive Director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, an industry-supported group. EPIC is one of the sponsors of the Biofuels Forum, along with Pioneer, a Dupont Company, and Farm Credit Services of America.

Later in the day Mary Beth Stanek, director of environment and energy at General Motors will cover the challenges her company faces in marketing cars and trucks that burn E-85. She'll tell the group that E-85 has great potential to displace petroleum and some to reduce greenhouse gases, but that consumers also notice its reduced fuel economy.

Erik Fyrwald, DuPont's Group Vice President for Ag and Nutrition, will describe what he sees as "the dawn of industrial biotech," a future that will include ethanol, another alcohol made from crops -- biobutanol -- and cellulosic ethanol. He'll bring the group up to date on DuPont's partnership with the oil company, BP, to introduce biobutanol in the United Kingdom later this year.

Purdue University agricultural economist Wallace Tyner, who has proposed news ways of providing government support for the ethanol industry, will be one of several national industry leaders who will look government policy on biofuels.

The forum also includes a brief look at future technologies in biofuels, including an energy-efficient plant, Corn Plus in Winnebago, Minnesota, that is planning to use wind-power to reduce its use of electricity. Doug Haefele, a research scientist at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, will describe more work that Pioneer and its parent company, DuPont, are doing in the development of biobutanol, and Tom Robb, co-product development manager for Abengoa Bioenergy Corporation, will talk about his company's work on developing ethanol from cellulose. Abengoa, a company based in Seville, Spain, owns corn-ethanol plants in Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico in the U.S. It's the largest international producer of ethanol and is building a corn-based ethanol plant in southern France.

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