Jeff Lautt
Jeff Lautt

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana ranks fifth in ethanol production in the U.S., so it’s no wonder there were so many interested attendees at the fourth annual Ethanol Forum.

The meeting was hosted by the Indiana Corn Growers Association in order to bring together industry representatives to discuss important topics related to biofuels.

“We believe that this forum is an excellent opportunity to come together and learn about what’s happening in the ethanol industry,” said Dennis Maple, president of Indiana Corn Marketing Council. “The council has concentrated our efforts on achieving our mission, which is to enhance the value of corn to Indiana corn farmers.”

Maple said that livestock and ethanol are two of the largest sectors of the corn market.

Roz Leeck, biofuels director of the ICMC, discussed two ethanol-related programs underway in Indiana.

The first project pertains to advanced biofuels in the aviation sector.

“It’s a research project that’s going to be conducted at Purdue Unive rsity,” Leeck said. “It’s quite an exciting thing and another way we’re trying demonstrate the value of corn growers, as well as continuing to promote American ethanol.”

The second program is a flex-fuel pump program that involves six different retailers throughout Indiana. These retailers will host 14 locations offering ethanol.

“It was first announced in 2011, and since then we’ve partnered with retailers across the state in order to get some flex pumps installed,” Leeck noted. “One of the challenges that we have in the ethanol industry is getting that ethanol fuel to the actual consumer.

Neill McKinstray, president of the Ethanol Group and The Andersons Inc., gave an update on the ethanol industry from a national perspective.

McKinstray compared the journey of the ethanol industry to that of a hiker climbing a tall mountain.

“Similar to the journey of the ethanol industry over the past 10 years, going up this path to the top of Angel’s Landing is an arduous climb, with twists and turns,” he said. “It’s hard work to make it to the top. The path is narrow, it’s treacherous, with drop offs to either side — the summit, however, is a worthwhile objective.”

McKinstray demonstrated his point by showing a picture of a mountain peak where a climber’s only safety is a link chain to hold.

“I’m going to describe the ethanol industry as being at the point where we must grab the chains,” he said. “Now we must work hand over hand to pull ourselves to the very top. We’ve labored up the long slope to this point, investing much time, much money to get to where we are.

“We’ve taken measured steps along the way and ramped up corn production to meet the new demand. We faced stiff political wind — we’ve climbed hand over hand on the chains to dispel the unfounded and sometimes outright untrue claims about our industry and our products.”

Other challenges the industry has overcome include drought and attacks from opponents such as Big Oil, McKinstray said.

“Again, we’re close to the top,” he said. “We can already see significant benefits of the climb.”

Some of the benefits he listed included better air quality, significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced dependence on foreign oil and improvements to local economies.

He said that the demand for ethanol has created thousands of jobs, as well as prosperity for corn farmers.

While there are many positive points to focus on, McKinstray said that the ethanol is facing more political challenges now than ever.

“The ethanol industry and Renewable Fuel Standard is perhaps at its weakest political point ever,” he said. “At this time the major challenge is those who want to eliminate the RFS entirely, risking the loss of choice for the consumer — and the potential need for farm supports that government just can’t afford.”

McKinstray emphasized the importance of ethanol on not only a local level, but nationally.

From 2005 to 2012, as ethanol went from 1 percent to 10 percent of the fuel supply, U.S. dependence on imported petroleum declined from 60 percent to 41 percent, he said, crediting ethanol as a big part of the success.