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Q & A: Tom Buis, Growth Energy CEO

Growth Energy’s Chief Executive Officer is excited about the expansion of biofuels and hopes U.S. dependency on foreign oil will soon be curbed. 

Tom Buis believes there’s a modern American success story in the making: the ethanol industry. 

“We reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs that can’t be outsourced, improve air quality, and give consumers’ savings at the pump,” says Buis. 

Often the ethanol industry doesn’t get recognized for those benefits, however. Opponents fight hard to stop the growth, he says. Why? It’s all about market share. 

“Our opponents don’t want to see us get anymore foothold in the marketplace,” says the Washington-based CEO. 

“Food vs. fuel is the biggest lie I’ve heard while I’ve been in Washington since 1987. I’ve heard a few in that time period,” says Buis. 

It’s those lies Buis is trying to expose; he believes U.S. farmers can produce food, fuel, and feed without any supply problems. 

SF: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in the industry? 

TB: To have market access. We know we are the least expensive fuel in the world. But we can’t succeed if consumers don’t have access to products. 

How do we achieve that? How do we get into a marketplace that is monopolized by our competition who doesn’t want to see us succeed?

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), passed in 2005 and reauthorized and extended in 2007, certainly helps us gain that market access.  

SF: Why don’t we have higher blends of ethanol?

TB: Everyone knew, at some point, we were going to have to blend higher blends than 10%. That’s because buying requirements of the RFS advance those volumes every year. 

One of our first acts was to file a waiver to allow 15% ethanol into the fuel mix, and it’s almost been six years since we filed it. They’ve fought us every way they can. 

SF: What would more ethanol use mean for farmers?

TB: We are going to have the largest crop on record and the biggest carryover we’ve seen in a very, very long time. 

If we don’t balance supply and demand and we have excess supply overhanging in the market, that means we get a low price on the sale of our commodities. 

That’s what we’re seeing right now. Corn prices today are about $3.20 per bushel, way below the cost of production for most farmers. 

For decades, America’s farmers had to count on government assistance to make up the difference between the cost of production and what they received in the marketplace. The ethanol and biodiesel industries created new domestic demand to add value to overall commodity. It’s a consistent demand, but it can’t be up against the ceiling of usage compared to the productivity of America’s farmers. 

SF: What excites you now? 

TB: Critics have not been able to roll back the RFS; they’ve not been able to eliminate it. Our industry is growing, and we’re starting to see the next generation of biofuels. 

Today, we are $1 per gallon cheaper on the wholesale market. Consumers benefit from the use of biofuels. We can do more, we just have to take all of the steps necessary to make sure the facts get out there and the story is told.

SF: What will the industry be talking about in 10 years?

TB: How America reduced its dependence on oil. We cleaned the air, saved consumers money, and revitalized rural economies. That’s the story that’s going to be told. We’re well on our way there.

Name: Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy

Background: 

Started farming in the early 1960s with his brother in west-central Indiana. He farmed full time until 1987, when he moved to Washington, D.C. He’s worked for Congress members, was elected the 13th president of the National Farmers Union, and is currently CEO of Growth Energy. 

Growth Energy Career: 

He started at Growth Energy in 2009. Buis charges himself with the advancement of biofuels. 

Why is Buis still in Washington?: 

“I really didn’t think it would take that long to straighten these folks out,” he says. “I thought it was going to be easy, but there are so many competing interests.”

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