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Diversification and DecarbonizationNext Steps for US Ethanol Farmers, Producers and Innovators 

The agricultural sector is facing a unique opportunity – the demand for decarbonization is meeting the challenge of maintaining profitability. Since its inception, the pursuit of knowledge and technological innovation has defined the ethanol industry through the vision and ingenuity of farmers. This mindset has led to ongoing enhanced operational efficiency and a constant evolution to diversify and meet new opportunities. As a result, businesses grow, and rural communities thrive 

As the market moves towards meeting new opportunities posed by legislation that incentivizes US ethanol producers to lower their Carbon Intensity (CI) scores, we at Whitefox Technologies stand as a catalyst for this revitalized approach to production, creating new opportunities for farmers to find new homes for bushels of corn, such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel and bio-based chemicals and products. Offering a pathway to diversification and prosperity for farmers through innovative ethanol production techniques, we collaborate with our customers to expand the possibilities available within a thriving bioeconomy. 

We caught up with Tony Short, Whitefox Chief Commercial Officer, and Dave Sovereign, Director of Golden Grain Energy and Whitefox customer, in discussions about diversification of the US ethanol market, decarbonization strategies, and next steps for US farmers, ethanol producers, and innovators. 

The Call for Diversification 

Corn farming is the initial point of the ethanol value chain. Based on available modelling tools, the inputs that farmer’s utilize to grow the crop influences their CI score, which ultimate influences the CI score of the ethanol produced from that bushel. This poses a unique challenge for farmers who see this as a strategy to positively influence the long-term opportunities for their local ethanol plant. 

Across events and conferences throughout the early part of the year, one message was clear – “Farmers are the backbone of the bioeconomy, but they face the need to diversify,” reflects Tony. “Our membrane technology not only increases ethanol yield but also opens doors to new markets like sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), providing farmers multiple avenues for success.”  

In addition to the CI of the corn, there are several areas of the ethanol production process that impact the CI of the ethanol, including the energy-intensive downstream processing after fermentation. This is where Whitefox comes in by reducing energy consumption by up to 50%.  

“It’s about redefining efficiency,” Tony explains. “With this technology, farmers can produce ethanol more sustainably, reducing their CI scores and aligning with global decarbonization goals.” 

Decarbonization at the Farmgate  

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technology Office‘s (BETO) 2023 Billion-Ton Report shows availability of more than 1 billion tons of biomass annually in the U.S., demonstrating a clear path forward towards a robust global bioeconomy utilizing resources already available. The results of this study make it clear that we have the necessary raw materials for the development of countless bio-based goods, from fuels to products, and we can produce with lower CI than ever before. 

In addition to his role at Golden Grain, Dave is a corn farmer in Northern Iowa. In a recent conversation, we explored his practical, on-the-ground insights into these new markets. Highlighting the potential opportunities driven by low carbon standards in both the domestic US market and international markets, and the growing interest in SAF, Dave sees a significant advantage for ethanol. “We need to remain flexible and reduce our carbon score to tap into these markets effectively,” he states.  

Farmers are meeting this challenge by incorporating regenerative agricultural practices that reduce their CI and improve efficiency. “We’ve been focusing on smart farming practices, carbon sequestration, and reducing our carbon intensity. Implementing these strategies not only helps in meeting environmental standards but also opens up new markets and revenue streams for us. It’s about staying ahead and ensuring that our farming practices contribute positively to the environment.” Dave explains.  

Building Robust Rural Economies 

It’s not just about expansion, it’s about localization. The growth of the bioeconomy holds great promise for rural development. As farmers integrate more advanced biofuel production technologies, they are not merely participants in the industry—they are active drivers of economic and community empowerment.  

Dave envisions the use of advancing ethanol production technologies as a means to empower and revitalize rural communities, not just through job creation but also by fostering a sustainable economic environment. “Our mission is to enhance local corn production and boost the incomes of our investor partners, thereby driving economic growth within our community.” 

The transformation of rural economies through production poses a crucial shift towards new jobs and job markets that provide opportunities for communities that are oftentimes underserved or see very little of the economic growth that is oftentimes sent to metropolitan areas. These include well-paid opportunities for skilled labor for operation and maintenance technicians. Moreover, the infrastructure needed for ethanol production—such as processing facilities and supply chains—can stimulate local businesses and service providers, from construction firms to logistics companies. 

“We’re at the center of innovation out here. It’s very important to our country and our industry that we maintain the vitality and foster the type of people who want to drive innovation. This happens right here in rural America, where every enhancement in technology can lead to significant community growth and economic resilience,” Dave highlights. 

 

A Vision for the Future 

Innovation in ethanol production, such as the integration of Whitefox’s membrane technology, offers more than just increased efficiency—it opens new markets and enhances sustainability. For Dave and Golden Grain Energy, these technological advancements are not merely operational upgrades; they are strategic investments that ensure long-term viability and market competitiveness. “With the integration of Whitefox’s membrane technology, we’ve broadened our operational goals to enhance efficiency and reduce operational costs—key to staying competitive on a global scale,” he explains. 

Looking ahead, Tony emphasizes the potential impact of Whitefox’s technology: “Our goal is a future where farming means both cultivating crops and producing clean energy. It’s a vision where agriculture becomes a key player in our energy ecosystem.” 

What seems to be a uniting force of the ethanol industry, the importance of cultivating a culture of learning within our teams. By fostering an environment where curiosity and continuous learning are encouraged, they drive not just technological innovation but also operational excellence. “It’s about staying ahead of the curve, continuously improving our processes to meet not just today’s standards but tomorrow’s expectations,” Dave explains.  

“We’re all hungry to learn,” he states, reflecting a mindset that seeks to continually adapt and evolve in response to industry changes, and the opportunities made available by technological solutions. 

 

Hungry to Learn More? 

Decarbonization in the US ethanol industry is more essential than ever – we are on the cusp of the bioeconomy revolution. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, make sure to join our upcoming webinar on May 21.  

The webinar is taking place in partnership with The Digest, and Whitefox CEO Gillian Harrison will be joined by PROtect‘s Andrea Foglesong and National Corn Grower Association’s Kelly Nieuwenhuis. Our panel of experts will delve into the boundless possibilities for decarbonization in the ethanol sector through innovation at the farm and plant. 

 

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