The Wisconsin Energy Institute and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

Our most recent member meeting of the WBIA was hosted by the Great Lakes Bio Energy Research Center located in the brand new Wisconsin Energy Institute on the UW-Madison campus.

Hosted by the WEI’s Associate Director, Mary Blanchard, we received an overview on the GLBRC’s mission and projects from their Scientific Programs Manager, Steve Slater. Finally, Leith Nye, the GLBRC’s Education and Outreach Coordinator led us on a tour of the facility.


The GLBRC is a Department of Energy funded project that seeks to “perform the basic research that generates technology to convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol and other advanced biofuels.” In a nutshell, they are at the forefront of finding ways to advance renewable energy from cellulosic biomass. If you can think of it, they’re probably doing it.


While we were only able to glimpse into a handful of their most promising work, the GLBRC’s location at the WEI building is not by accident. The WEI has brought together researchers from diverse disciplines to better understand the larger picture of our energy issues. The Wisconsin Energy Institute is the only bioenergy research facility located on an academic campus and takes full advantage of that, bridging the gaps between the many fields in which scientists and students are working on the future of energy, from biofuels to batteries.

The presentation from Dr. Slater was focused on three projects the GLBRC’s is most excited about, which we’ll cover in our next blog post. Stay tuned!

We were also able to walk through the factors involved in bringing cellulosic ethanol to market. Dr. Slater broke down which aspects in the four stages of refinement play most into economic viability, and offered some insight onto the technology they are developing which can reduce their impact on the bottom line.


If you’d like to know more, contact the Wisconsin Energy Institute and the Great Lakes Bio Energy Research Center. Both of these organizations are doing truly astonishing work, and we’re proud to have them in the state of Wisconsin. We’d also like to thank their communications/event staff for providing us with the opportunity and helping us make the most of our visit.


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Future of the Bio Industry from Georg Anderl

Following our last WBIA meeting, we asked our speaker Georg Anderl, Vice President of Engineering for DDCE, to talk briefly about the future of the bio industry. Hear what he had to say.

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Ethanol Plants Planning Upgrades

Here is a great story from Ethanol Producer Magazine about how several ethanol plants in the Midwest, including Wisconsin’s very own Ace Ethanol, are planning upgrades. Check it out here. Ace received $595,000 in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to upgrade its waste heat recovery system. These plants are all at the forefront of technological innovation as they upgrade.

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Ethanol produces more energy than it uses

A USDA report has good news about ethanol’s net energy gain: it has increased substantially – 10 percent — in the last 20 years. Higher yields mean less corn is needed to produce ethanol. Corn yields have increased 39 percent. What this means for ethanol is that it now produces more energy than is used to make it.

The report, “2008 Energy Balance for the Corn-Ethanol industry,” states “A dry grind ethanol plant that produces and sells dry distiller’s grains and uses conventional fossil fuel power for thermal energy and electricity produces nearly two times more energy in the form of ethanol delivered to customers than it uses for corn, processing, and transportation. The ratio is about 2.3 BTU of ethanol for 1 BTU of energy in inputs, when a more generous means of removing byproduct energy is employed. ”

The USDA also has good news for dry mills using up to 50 percent biomass power: “The energy output for these plants is near 2.8 times energy inputs, even using the conservative byproduct allowance.”

The report concludes that ethanol has made a substantial net energy gain, and “there are still prospects for improvement.”

Read more at the USDA Blog: USDA Report Shows Improving Corn-Ethanol Energy Efficiency

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WBIA President Bob Sather Voices Support for Ethanol Tax Credits

WBIA President Bob Sather recently wrote the follwoing letter to the editor to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram in response to a recent editorial they ran calling for the end of ethanol subsidies.

To the Editor:

In its editorial page on National View “End costly ethanol subsidies,” the article failed to provide its readers any context, mislead them about the nature of U.S. ethanol production and offered no alternative to replace America’s addiction to oil. The amount of ethanol produced nationally last year was about equal to the amount of oil this country imported from Saudi Arabia. A study by Merrill Lynch cites that gasoline would be about $35 cents more without ethanol as a product in the motor fuel supply.

First, calling for an end to tax credits for ethanol while ignoring the billions of PERMANENT tax subsidies for Big Oil (the World Bank cites $500 billion last year) is as inequitable as it is shortsighted. Despite all members of Congress wanting more renewable energy technologies, they come before Congress with hat in hand for high risk investment. The oil industry, by comparison, only lobbies when the permanent subsidies it enjoys are threatened.

Second, American ethanol is a success story. Only lamenting the value of the tax credit for ethanol without discussing the economic benefits ethanol is misleading. For example, federal tax revenue generated by the production of ethanol and use of ethanol totaled more than $8 billion in 2009, $3 billion more than the value of the tax credit. Jobs and economic opportunity delivered to hundreds of rural communities further add to the value of investment in domestic ethanol production.

Third, the article suggests there are better technologies available without providing any evidence. There is no gasoline alternative technology that can match ethanol’s availability, production volume, or oil displacement benefits. Moreover, continued investment in ethanol is required to ensure promising next generation biofuel technologies, such as cellulosic ethanol for commercialization. Ending investment in ethanol will result in more oil consumption and severely curtail investment in new renewable fuel technologies.

Accordingly, this is a question of priorities. If the goal of assumption of the article is a level energy playing field, then it should call for the elimination of all tax provisions benefitting every energy industry – oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, etc. Finally, if the real priority is ending our addiction to oil, then eliminating the permanent tax breaks for Big Oil and investing those dollars in renewable fuel technologies should be our goal.

Bob Sather
Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance
11010 161st Street
Chippewa Falls, WI 54729

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Auto Industry Relying on Incomplete Research in Fight Against E15

In the debate over raising the ethanol blend wall, the auto industry has come out against E15 (a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline), citing research that claims higher blends will damage car engines.  This study, however, is incomplete and cannot be regarded as fact.

The report, published by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), was due to test 16 engines manufactured between 2001 and 2009, but has only conducted testing on half thus far.  In fact, testing has only been completed for four engines.

It is troublesome that the auto industry is drawing conclusions from a study that is nowhere near finished when other third party research, and even the EPA, has suggested that E15 is safe for recent engine models.

CEO of Growth Energy, Tom Buis, said, “The EPA has told us in writing that they intend to complete their testing on E15 before making a decision, and we are confident they will.”

Why hasn’t the auto industry done the same?

Buis added, “We are also confident that the testing will show what we already know: that E15 can run just fine in today’s modern engines, all while creating good paying jobs here in America.”

For more details about the situation, check out this story at BrighterEnergy.org.

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Didion Works to Increase Energy Efficiency

WBIA Member Didion Ethanol has begun work to increase the plant’s energy efficiency using $5.5 million from a recent DOE grant.  The project, which will cost a total of $11 million, will decrease energy use while allowing the plant to produce more ethanol.  We are proud to see one of our members taking such a big step towards energy efficiency and the improvement of the ethanol industry.  The project will also created an estimated 10 permanent positions, plus 75 temporary construction jobs.

Read more about the project in this article in Ethanol Producer Magazine.

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WI Small Scale Gas & Liquid Biofuels Workshop & Expo

The Wisconsin Small-Scale Biofuels Producers Program (WSSBPP) from Fox Valley Technical College is presenting a new workshop – the Small Scale Gas & Liquid Biofuels Workshop & Expo – that will give participants an opportunity to visit with local biofuels equipment manufacturers, learn about starting a small-scale biofuels operation and hear about new funding opportunities.

The workshop will include a morning “lecture” session and and afternoon “hands-on” session. Speakers will include biofuels experts, business leaders, state officials and educators from Wisconsin.

The program will be held on Saturday, April 10, 2010 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Fox Valley Tech College’s Agriculture Center in Appleton.

Registration is required.
Workshop Fee: $25.00*
Registration deadline: 4/5/2010
* WSSBPP members receive a $25.00 discount (cost is free)

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Bio Industry Basics #2: Ethanol Co-product Can Help Feed the World

Researchers at South Dakota State University have begun turning dried distillers grains, a co-product of ethanol production, into a protein- and fiber-rich flour. Here are a few facts:

  • The researchers have successfully replaced up to 20 percent of flour in bread products with distillers grain flour, significantly increasing the protein and fiber content of the products.
  • The distillers grain flour can provide extra protein for people in developing countries where meat is scarce.
  • That means ethanol plants are able to provide food AND fuel for people around the world.

“Bio Industry Basics” is a series of weekly facts from the Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance highlighting the positive benefits of bio fuel, bio power, and bio products production and use in Wisconsin.

Bio Industry Basics 2 Radio Actuality

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Video: How Ethanol is Made

WQOW Channel 18 in Eau Claire did a great piece on how ethanol – and its co-products – are made, using footage from the Ace Ethanol plant in Stanley.  Check it out: http://tini.us/517

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