May is Renewable Fuels Month. Since 2006, the governor of Nebraska has dedicated one month out of each year to recognize the importance of renewable biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel.
According to the Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska ranks No. 2 in ethanol production with 25 ethanol plants across the state. The industry employs over 1,400 Nebraskans in rural areas of the state. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ethanol is currently blended in over 95% of the nation’s fuel supply.
“As a corn and cattle farmer, ethanol is vital to my farming operation,” said David Bruntz, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board and farmer from Friend.
Bruntz said in Nebraska, 31% of the state’s corn is used in ethanol production.
“From the production of ethanol, we also get distillers grains, a protein-rich livestock feed for my cattle,” he said. “For every bushel of corn used for ethanol, we’re able to get a cleaner-burning fuel and co-products for our value-added livestock industries.”
As more and more drivers hit the road this summer as pandemic restrictions are eased, ethanol demand will increase. Last year, with the pandemic restrictions, demand for ethanol was low. It caused some plants to temporarily shutdown.
But as the pandemic eases as more people are vaccinated, commodity prices have soared, such as corn, which have seen its biggest monthly gain since October 2012 as the price per bushel of corn hit $7.62 at the beginning of May. Corn prices have jumped 142% in the last year as exports of corn have more than doubled.
Nationwide, 30-40% of corn ends up as ethanol. Also, China is buying a lot of U.S. corn as it rebuilds it pig herds, which has seen loses as a second wave of African swine fever is estimated to have killed as many as eight million pigs in China since the start of the year.
Nebraska corn growers intend to plant 9.90 million acres this year, down 3% from 2020, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Last year, state corn for grain production is estimated at a record high 1.79 billion bushels, up slightly from 2019.
According to the Nebraska Corn Board, the state’s ethanol industry produces nearly 2.1 billion gallons of ethanol, which are used locally, domestically and abroad.
While ethanol supports the state’s agricultural industry and rural economies, it also benefits consumers in numerable ways, according to Jan tenBensel, chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.
“By using ethanol blends, consumers are really improving our environment and enhancing their engine performance all while saving money,” said tenBensel. “Ethanol is a fuel made from plants, which makes it renewable, unlike petroleum. It’s cleaner-burning and reduces the emissions of cancer-causing chemicals into the atmosphere from the tailpipe. Ethanol is also a natural octane booster, which supports overall engine performance. You would think a fuel like this would cost more, but it’s actually less expensive at the pumps.”
He said environmental issues continue to spark national discussions, both ethanol and biodiesel are well-suited to combat global warming and promote cleaner air. Ethanol blends can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 43% compared to regular gasoline, and biodiesel can reduce lifecycle emissions by 86% compared to petroleum-based diesel fuel.
Like ethanol, the biodiesel industry works synergistically with Nebraska’s livestock sector. A healthy biodiesel industry provides nearly $58.5 million dollars a year in aggregate benefits to beef and pork producers due to decreased meal expenses and the use of inedible tallow and white grease as a biodiesel feedstock. In 2020, 8.3 billion pounds of soybean oil was used as a feedstock in biodiesel.
It was recently announced that a new facility in Hastings producing biodiesel from rendered animal fat (primarily beef tallow) will be built.
The new biodiesel plant, Heartwell Renewables, is a joint venture of the Love’s Family of Companies and Cargill to produce and market renewable diesel. Heartwell Renewables will construct a production plant. The plant will create more than 50 jobs in Hastings. The plant will have the ability to produce approximately 80 million gallons annually of renewable diesel.
“Farmers are always looking for ways to maximize overall efficiency and productivity, and the same holds true for our biofuel industries” said Eugene Goering, chairman of the Nebraska Soybean Board and farmer from Columbus. “Science and technology continue to improve, so we’re able to produce even better fuels while reducing our overall environmental impact.”
“We’re really excited about Renewable Fuels Month as we work to share the benefits of biofuels with our state and its people,” said Tony Leiding, president of Renewable Fuels Nebraska. “I encourage everyone to help us celebrate throughout the month and continue to use higher ethanol blends throughout the summer driving season.”