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Ethanol plays important role in corn industry
October 07, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Nebraska Ethanol Board Collection In 1933, this Lincoln gas station was offering a 10 percent blend of “corn alcohol gasoline.” Later called gasohol and now ethanol, alcohol blended with gasoline not only helps increase fuel supplies, but also provides markets for the state’s corn industry.

On Sept. 21, the Nebraska Ethanol Board rolled out a new campaign to increase awareness of the 15 percent alcohol/gasoline blend called E15. While encouraging renewable fuels, the ethanol industry also plays an important role in promoting the nation’s corn market.

Todd Sneller with the Nebraska Ethanol Board said E15 has been available for several years, but has been more of a novelty because it wasn’t widely available. So in September, the fuel was introduced to the Omaha and northeast Nebraska areas. Several fuel markets came onboard to offer E15 at $1.15 a gallon. The fuel will be available farther west in the near future.

“E15 has a higher octane and usually costs less than other fuel choices,” Sneller said. “Higher octane means better vehicle performance and helps reduce toxic emissions and harmful particulate matter from the tailpipe.”

The ethanol board is also working with fuel marketers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer new flex system of blender pumps that offer up to four different ethanol blends. Those installations are currently underway.

E15 was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 for use in in all passenger vehicles model 2001 or newer, including cars, pickups, vans and sport utility vehicles.

There are currently 25 ethanol plants in operation across the state, distilling the fuel from corn. “There have been a few ownership changes, but Nebraska based companies acquired these facilities,” Sneller said. “We might even see some expansion as more capital is invested in these operations.”

He said that’s good for the state’s ag industry, as more ethanol production requires more corn. All the plants have been active purchasers of the grain product, which helps reduce the large surplus of corn being produced.

“We had a robust harvest in 2015 as Nebraska grew nearly 1.7 billion bushels of corn,” Snelling said. “We used about 39 percent of that crop in Nebraska ethanol plants, amounting to about 1.85 billion gallons of ethanol production.”

While the 2016 corn crop is expected to be slightly larger, ethanol plants have also been expanding production. It’s estimated that 40 percent of this year’s corn crop will be used for ethanol production.

“Ethanol plants are reliable purchasers of corn and are in the market every day so they set a good market price,” Sneller said. “They’re also close to the corn production areas, so it’s not that far from farm to market. Farmers are spending less time and money getting their crop to market.”

Another byproduct of the ethanol distillation process is distillers grain, which is used to feed livestock. The Nebraska Ethanol Board works closely with the Nebraska Corn Board and other partners to promote the grain’s use both domestically and internationally.

“Distillers grain is a recognized high-protein feed product for poultry, swine and cattle,” Sneller said. “We’re seeing a robust export market for both ethanol and distillers grain. It’s a strong value-added product.”

He added that distillers grain isn’t just for livestock feed, but has applications in the food industry. “This is the biotech part of the industry as we research what other products we can expand into.”
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