Monday, October 15, 2007

Cellulosic Ethanol Conference Day 1

I am in Washington DC attending the Cellulosic Ethanol Conference at the historic Alamas Temple conference center. Today's topic was a report on the status of industry activities in developing the feedstock industry related to ethanol production.

Specifically the logistics of using cellulosic feedstock and the infrastructure needed to support such an industry. In summary there were recurring themes throughout all the presentation of issues that will need to be addressed before this industry can really take off.

  • Harvesting and Pre-processing energy crops
  • Delivery Scenarios and challenges
  • Equipment
  • Transportation
  • Storage
  • Most importantly - Economics
There has been a ton of money pumped into this industry in the last couple of years, this has drastically escalated the interest nationwide amongst business, academics, farmers, investors, etc.

What I took away is that America has the capability now of making cellulosic ethanol work. There is great potential in feed stocks such as switch grass, sugar cane and woody materials. The equipment to harvest these crops exists now, in the form of baling equipment. The equipment will need to be modified to gain much needed efficiencies to make the economics work.

One very good presentation was by Eric and Mary Woodford of Redfalls, Minnesota. The Woodfords operate a custom baling service and have begun working with researchers in the area of biomass collection. Eric and Mary outlined the challenges they have with their business and spoke extensively about the collection of corn stover, which is used in Minnesota for bedding in dairy and cattle operations. Here is their summary of the baling process:
  • Crop is combined
  • Stalks are shredded
  • Residue is raked
  • Windrows are baled
  • Bales are moved
They also provided some economics in their operation, based on the 2007 Iowa farm Custom Rate Survey:
  • Stalk chopping = $8.65/acre
  • Raking = $5.30/acre
  • Baling (round bales, net wrap, 1250 lbs) = $11.55 per bale
  • Moving bales to field edge = $2.75/bale
  • Based on 5,300 lbs of corn stover per acre harvested = $29.52/ton harvest expense.
Other presentations included information on Woody materials, harvesting equipment, custom harvesting companies, bulk dry storage, bale storage, wet storage and integration of the system.

One important point many of the speakers was the necessity of all players in the industry to sit down at the table and work together. Only through cooperation and dialog will this new industry be able to successfully compete on the world stage.

Tomorrow's meeting includes, Congressman Jay Insley and Acting USDA Secretary Chuck Connor.

No comments: