Seventeen ethanol plants nationwide have been idled since last June because of a scarcity of affordable corn due to the drought and a weak market for the corn-based fuel. On Friday, a plant in Macon, Mo., took the hit — and brought the number to 18.
The northeast Missouri plant is temporarily halting operations as corn prices top $7 a bushel. It's one of 27 plants that Poet Biorefining owns nationwide, and was the first ethanol plant opened in Missouri in 2000. It has been producing 46 million gallons of ethanol per year since 2003.
About a decade ago, concerns about energy independence, greenhouse gas emissions and the need to boost rural economies led Congress to launch policies in support of biofuels – corn ethanol, most notably. But the idea was that eventually more U.S.-produced fuel would be cellulosic – derived from corn residue, wheat straw or other biomass.
There’s a new kind of gas on the market, with more ethanol in it than the gas we usually put in our cars. That’s beneficial for corn farmers who grow the corn that ethanol is made from and want more of it in your gas. But while the ethanol industry fought for years to bring this fuel to the market, now that they’ve won… good luck finding it. Even in Corn Country, pickings are slim.
Head to your local filling station and you might see a new blend of gas at the pump. After a three-year regulatory process, the Environmental Protection Agency approved E15 – gas made with 15 percent ethanol – this summer.
Most gas we pump is already blended with ethanol, sometimes it contains as much as 10 percent, but the ethanol industry fought hard to bring E15 to the market. For ethanol backers and the farmers who feed the ethanol industry, getting drivers to pump gas with 50 percent more ethanol is a big win.
Livestock producers are watching their feed costs rise with corn prices and taking their concerns to Washington D.C. The Environmental Protection Agency is under pressure from livestock groups and some rural lawmakers to curb corn prices and ease livestock producer worries by suspending the federal ethanol mandate.
Inside a new facility in Blair, Neb., north of Omaha, a gleaming maze of steel tubes connect a line of giant fermentation tanks that will cultivate some of the most advanced biotechnology in the ethanol industry.