The Ag Community Advocates for Ethanol
Renewables provide economic benefits as well. “During 2017 alone, the ethanol industry created and supported nearly 360,000 jobs and contributed roughly $45 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product [GDP]—a number exceeding the total GDP of many countries,” Hollinrake says.
Ethanol saves consumers money, too. High-octane blends, such as E15, save consumers 5 to 10 cents per gallon at the pump, compared with conventional gasoline.
For all these reasons, the agricultural community, including Syngenta, works every day with industry coalitions to develop these fuels and keep them available.
Breakthroughs in Ethanol
To support the renewable fuels industry and U.S. growers, Syngenta developed Enogen® corn, an in-seed innovation that enhances ethanol production by delivering alpha-amylase enzyme directly in the grain.
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In fact, Syngenta expects grower premiums paid over the past few years to surpass $100 million during 2018. According to data from Iowa State University, these premiums create an additional $63 million in economic activity, for a total of $163 million in cumulative economic benefit to the region.
And Syngenta also expects Enogen—now sold to 31 different ethanol plants—to expand. “Obviously our goal is to expand our footprint for this revolutionary technology, so we continue to talk to more and more ethanol producers,” says Oestmann. “It really sets the baseline for the industry’s continued growth and progress.”
Keeping ethanol available also means working to affect policy. A key policy issue of concern is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which was created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the renewable fuels sector. Today, there are calls to repeal or reform it. Growth Energy, the nation’s top advocate for ethanol producers and supporters, including Syngenta, is fighting those efforts.
“The RFS says we as a nation are committed to using renewable fuel, and every year we’re going to use more,” says Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] comes out with blending targets, and those targets increase each year. A lot of our political activity is making sure the EPA implements the law as Congress intended.”
Market competition from the petroleum industry drives much of the conversation around reforming the law, she adds. “Tension is growing right now because we’re successful and using more than 10 percent ethanol. We’ve got 30 states offering even higher blends.”
Another area of policy focus is around Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP), a measurement of how quickly fuel evaporates. “When you add ethanol to gasoline, RVP spikes initially,” Skor says. “That score is above the national threshold, but the EPA recognized that while the volatility goes up initially, the emissions are much cleaner. The benefit offsets their concern over volatility.”
“During 2017 alone, the ethanol industry created and supported nearly 360,000 jobs and contributed roughly $45 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product [GDP]—a number exceeding the total GDP of many countries.”
To acknowledge that, the EPA granted an RVP exemption to fuel with 10 percent ethanol. But now, fuel retailers want to offer their customers E15: fuel with 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. Because E15 has no RVP waiver, current regulations say that in the summer months, much of the country cannot sell it.
Industry members are working to change that. “We're asking simply to level the playing field and ensure that the RVP waiver is there for both E10 and E15 year-round,” says Oestmann. “Greater access to E15 during the high-volume, gasoline consumption summer months will further reduce our dependence on imported oil. Consumers deserve choice, especially during the summer when gasoline prices are higher.”
America is the world’s top ethanol exporter, trading more than 1 billion gallons of ethanol annually. “Because there’s such global appetite for our product, and we make ethanol cheaper than anybody else, we know we can be exporting more every year,” Skor says.
But the current trade environment has become complicated. “Last year, China was one of our top three trading partners,” Skor says. “This year we’re not sending any gallons to China, because they’ve got tariffs in place. A lot of our conversation with the U.S. government stresses that growers need access to these markets.”
Still, the productivity and efficiency of U.S. growers are unparalleled in the world, says Erik Fyrwald, Syngenta CEO, and that puts them in the strongest possible position during these negotiations.
“Right now, there’s a lot of negotiating going on, but in the end, they’ll get to solutions,” Fyrwald says. “A critical part of the solution can be more exports of agricultural products from the U.S. to China.” That’s what Syngenta and its industry partners will be working toward.