A Growing Industry
Ethanol production plants continue to sprout up around Illinois
By Kaleigh Friend
Johnson Grain, LLC is the largest corn-only facility in the area with a storage building that can hold up to 7.5 million bushels, a bunker that can hold 2 million bushels and uprights that can hold up to 1.4 million bushels. Superintendent Peter Chaplain said much of the corn they had recently sent out by rail was going to ethanol plants in Texas.
When driving through Illinois, you’re definitely going to see one thing: corn fields. But what kinds of possibilities are presented by these rows and rows of corn? Second only to Iowa in corn production, Illinois is a large part of the ethanol production industry. Enough ethanol is produced to replace up to 35 percent of the state’s reliance on petroleum.
More than 600 million bushels of corn go to ethanol production every year in Illinois. This growing industry has created over 1,000 full-time jobs within the state, along with countless other indirect jobs.
Corn Belt Energy Cooperation’s largest electrical load, Patriot Renewable Fuels (PRF), has been a part of the movement to produce ethanol since they opened in 2008. PRF has operated at maximum capacity since its opening, producing more than 100 million gallons of ethanol every year.
An economic development group in Henry County started PRF in Annawan. Since inception PRF has created about 50 full-time jobs for the community and many other indirect jobs in the areas of farming and transportation. This plant produces more than just ethanol. Some of the valuable co-products of the ethanol production process include Dried Distillers Grains (DDGs) and carbon dioxide. DDGs are used as feed for livestock. Its usage offsets the use of 1 billion bushels of corn as feed, while carbon dioxide is used in the food and beverage industry for freezing processes and for the carbonation of beverages.
Producing ethanol reduces our reliance on foreign oil, has less of an environmental impact and creates a local demand for corn, according to Tricia Braid-Terry, Communications Director for Illinois Corn Growers Association.
Some vehicle manufacturers have released flex-fuel vehicles that use E85, which is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent ordinary unleaded fuel. Along with a reduced carbon footprint, flex fuel vehicle owners who use E85 will notice a better price at the pump.
While it is true that E85 users will notice a bit of a loss in fuel economy, the wholesale price is, on average, 60 cents cheaper per gallon. The use of E85 also prevents four tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year and reduces harmful ozone gasses by 20 percent. There are now over 220 gas stations in Illinois that offer E85. “The ethanol industry will continue to grow,” said Braid-Terry.
However, opponents argue using corn for ethanol production puts a strain on corn as a food source and that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than it generates. As for putting a strain on corn as a food source, Braid-Terry points out that higher yields have satisfied the demands created by ethanol production. Higher yields are a result of genetically engineered seeds and advanced technology allowing more precise application of fertilizer,
From 2001-2007, an average of 2.64 gallons of ethanol were produced per bushel of corn. Now the average is at 2.78 gallons, with some plants producing upwards of three gallons per bushel of corn.
When it comes to energy usage, it takes 1 British thermal unit (BTU) to produce ethanol. That is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. Ethanol, in turn, creates 13.2 BTUs, and therefore creates 292 percent more energy than it takes to produce it, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
While producing ethanol can cause corn prices to rise, Judd Nulting, Project Coordinator at Patriot Renewable Fuels, says this is a good thing because it makes farmland more valuable. Consumers shouldn’t notice this price shift at the grocery store; the value of corn in a box of Corn Flakes cereal has only increased from four cents to six cents in the last few years.
One group that’s excited about the use of E85 is the American Lung Association in Illinois. Matt Marcum, Manager of Environmental Programs, said that the association is very pro-E85 because it is a good alternative to petroleum in terms of emissions, air quality, and lung health. Mobile source emissions are one of the major air quality issues this group deals with. They have initiated a program in coordination with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Ford and GM to promote E85 by sending out $10 fuel coupons. The coupons are accepted at over 150 retailers in Illinois.
Ethanol impacts Illinois’ economy by over four billion dollars each year. These direct impacts are the total economic stimulus within Illinois realized from the services, salaries and value of the commodities produced by the plants.
The ethanol industry has also created many jobs at the 12 ethanol plants in the state and has created a stable market for corn. On a national spectrum, there are tax credits for ethanol that go to the fuel blenders, which are in the petroleum market and separate from the ethanol production plants. If the ethanol tax credit was lost, it would result in a loss of over 100,000 jobs and a decrease in corn demand and thus corn prices.
Overall, the ethanol industry is growing. As vehicle manufacturers produce more flex-fuel vehicles, the demand for ethanol will increase. The Illinois Corn Growers Association, along with others, pushed for a shift to a 15 percent standard ethanol and petroleum blend. The EPA recently approved a 5 percent increase on the usual 10 percent ethanol and petroleum blend we see at every pump in Illinois.
At the end of the day, what’s the verdict on ethanol? It’s a choice drivers have to make based on car performance, fuel efficiency, and price difference. Whatever the choice, the ethanol industry will continue to grow as more people “go green” and more ethanol production plants sprout up around