Iowa increased biodiesel production in 2018

About 296 gallons of soy biodiesel were produced in Iowa last year (flickr).

Julia Poska | January 4, 2019

Iowa produced about 80 million more gallons of biodiesel in 2018 than 2017, bringing the total up to about 365 million gallons. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association estimates that Iowa generated about one fifth of total biodiesel produced in the U.S. last year.

Monte Shaw, the director of the IRFA, attributed the increase in production to reduced foreign imports of biodiesel. Last spring, the United States International Trade Commission determined that Argentina and Indonesia were selling biodiesel in the U.S. at unfairly low rates, harming the domestic industry. Subsequent tariffs increased demand for U.S.-produced biodiesel.

Much of the demand was met with soybean oil, which totaled about 81 percent of the market share, up from 2017. Corn oil comprised 10 percent, while animal fat dropped to 5 percent, and used cooking oil contributed about 4 percent of the share.

Shaw believes Iowa could produce even more biodiesel, up to 400 million gallons in its 12 facilities, if nationwide Renewable Fuel Standard levels were higher. These levels determine the minimum quantity of biofuel that U.S. transportation fuels must contain and are administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Levels increase each year. In 2019, 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel should be mixed into U.S. diesel. By 2020, the amount should increase to 2.43 billion gallons.


Iowa’s Rep. Loebsack encourages Hillary Clinton to focus on renewable energy

Rep. Dave Loebsack. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Rep. Dave Loebsack proposed legislation that would establish a national flood center, possibly at the University of Iowa, during an press conference in Iowa City on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | July 29, 2016

Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack encouraged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to make renewable energy a major part of her platform during an event earlier this week, as reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Rep. Loebsack – who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – spoke at a forum Wednesday entitled POLITICO Caucus: Energy and the Election, sponsored by Vote4Energy. The forum was part of the events associated with the Democratic National Convention which took place in Philadelphia this week. Joining Loebsack on the panel was Reps. Boyle (D-PA) and Tonko (D-NY) as well as former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.

Much of Loebsack’s emphasis was on energy issues important to Iowans such as biofuels, wind, and solar.

“Energy policy is exceedingly important in Iowa. The renewable fuel standard has been important in Iowa, not just for ethanol, not just for corn ethanol, but for cellulosic ethanol, for biofuels of other sorts as well. These are also good for the environment. They can bring together people as far as I’m concerned,” Loebsack said at the forum.

Loebsack – currently the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation – represents Iowa’s 2nd District, the southeast corner of the state that includes Iowa City. The Sioux City native and former Cornell College political science professor has held his seat since 2006.

Full video of the panel discussion is available on

Branstad questions EPA’s new Renewable Fuel Standard

Iowa governor Terry Branstad at a 2011 event in Des Moines. (Flickr)
Iowa governor Terry Branstad at a 2011 event in Des Moines. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | June 26, 2015

During a public hearing of EPA’s new Renewable Fuel Standard in Kansas City on Thursday, Iowa governor Terry Branstad questioned the new policy and the economic impact it will have on the Hawkeye State.

Nearly 300 people made statements during the public event which will be the only one EPA plans to host before a final decision is made in November. Brandstad and other supporters of the current fuel standard feel that it is necessary “to force oil companies to improve infrastructure at gas pumps to deliver ethanol fuel blends above the current 10 percent mix.”

“The EPA has a choice: protect the deep pockets of Big Oil and their monopolistic practices or nurture consumer choice, renewable energy growth and a healthy rural economy,” Branstad said.

The proposed plan, which was set by congress, calls for a reduction of 4 billion gallons this year and an additional 5 billion gallons in 2016. Branstad cited the financial impacts the proposal would have on Iowa’s economy pointing out that corn has gone from $6 per bushel in August 2013 to $3.45 per bushel currently. He said this has caused uncertainty in the market and has led to fewer investments in biofuel technologies.

Proponents of the new standard say that it would increase overall biofuel production and use over time. Officials from the oil industry also argue that retailers are not equipped to sell gasoline with ethanol levels greater than 10 percent and that customer demand has not warranted an investment in new infrastructure.

Other have questioned the feasibility of biofuels altogether, citing that production requires large amounts of water and other resources.

Iowa leads the nation biofuel production with 42 ethanol plants and 13 biodiesel plants.

Estimate finds ethanol production may be worse for environment than Keystone XL

KC McGinnis | June 9, 2015

New estimates show that corn ethanol production could be worse for the environment than originally thought – even worse than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency date, the Environmental Working Group found that last year’s ethanol production process, including the conversion of millions of acres of arable land for use as corn crops, led to 27 million tons more carbon emissions than if Americans had used regular gasoline only. That’s compared to oil transmitted from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would emit 24 million tons of carbon per year.

The EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that gasoline sold in the U.S. contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Critics argue that the promise of the standard to promote energy independence and reduce emissions was squandered by mass conversion of grasslands and wetlands to grow corn, releasing carbon stored in the earth and leading to decreased biodiversity. This also had massive implications for the food supply, with the proportion of U.S. corn crops dedicated to ethanol rising from 6 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2013. The conversion of more than 300,000 acres of wetlands between 2008 and 2012 alone released between 25 and 74 million tons of CO2 each year, according to an EWG estimate.

While the EPA predicts that emissions from ethanol production will be lower than that of gasoline by 2022 if ethanol plants use biomass as their energy source, critics are skeptical that plants won’t instead turn to cheaper natural gas. The EWG recommends cutting the ethanol mandate, while industry studies insist that ethanol production will continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.

Train derailment near Dubuque spills ethanol into Mississippi River

...(Jeff Dzadon/Flickr)
A train bridge that crosses the Mississippi River near Dubuque, Iowa. (Jeff Dzadon/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 6, 2015

A train derailed Wednesday causing ethanol to be spilled on half an acre of land and one acre of ice on the Mississippi River, according to the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.

The 81-car train was traveling eastbound about 10 miles north of Dubuque when the derailment occurred around 11:30 a.m. Fourteen of the 15 cars that derailed contained ethanol and three of the cars started on fire. An additional three cars fell into the river which was covered with ice. No injuries were reported. The steep terrain made it difficult for clean up crews to reach crash site in rural Dubuque County.

When ethanol mixes with water in high concentration it can deplete oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Rescue crews are attempting to thaw the ice where the ethanol spilled in order to remove any environmental threats. The Department of Natural Resources plans on testing the water near to spill to ensure the safety of the aquatic wildlife in the area.

A spokesman with Canadian Pacific said DOT-111’s were the model of cars involved in the crash though he could not comment on exactly how many of the cars were the DOT-111 model. Critics have said the DOT-111 models are prone to puncturing and have been involved in other crashes and spills around the country. DOT-111’s are known to make up approximately 70 percent of the fleet in train cars in the United States.  The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a two-year phase out of the DOT-111’s last July.

Iowa plant first to produce cellulosic ethanol using fiber from corn kernels

Nick Fetty | July 9, 2014
Quad County Corn Processor employees pose for a photo. Top left to right: Charlie Voss, Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) Production Manager; Brad Yearous, QCCP Production Supervisor; Travis Brotherson, QCCP Plant Engineer, Research & Development, ACE Inventor; Rex Rimmer, QCCP Project Manager and Maintenance Manager; Josh Droegmiller, Systems Administration/ IT. Bottom left to right: Justin Ruble, QCCP Water Manager; Joe Williams, QCCP Lab Manager; Delayne Johnson, QCCP CEO. Photo courtesy Radio Iowa.
Quad County Corn Processor employees pose with the newly produced cellulosic ethanol.
Top left to right: Charlie Voss, Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) Production Manager; Brad Yearous, QCCP Production Supervisor; Travis Brotherson, QCCP Plant Engineer, Research & Development, ACE Inventor; Rex Rimmer, QCCP Project Manager and Maintenance Manager; Josh Droegmiller, Systems Administration/ IT. Bottom left to right: Justin Ruble, QCCP Water Manager; Joe Williams, QCCP Lab Manager; Delayne Johnson, QCCP CEO.
Photo courtesy Renewable Fuels Association.

A northwest Iowa facility has recently produced the first gallons of “cellulosic” ethanol using fiber from corn kernels.

The Quad County Corn Processors plant in Galva has produced ethanol using starch from corn kernels for more than a decade and has recently begun utilizing the fiber from kernels of corn to make the biofuel. According to Quad County Corn Processors CEO Delayne Johnson, this method using the kernels’ fibers yields an extra 6 percent of ethanol per bushel of corn compared to not using the fiber. The project has been lauded by the national Renewable Fuels Association as well as the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Plant Engineer Travis Brotherson came up with the idea to derive ethanol from corn kernel fiber somewhat unexpectedly in 2012.Quad County Corn Processors beat out competitors such as DuPont and Poet to be the first in the state to produce the cellulosic ethanol using corn fiber.

Quad County Corn Processors has invested more than $9 million in equipment to ferment the fiber of corn kernels and the plant is expected to produce about two million gallons of cellulsic ethanol  each year. If this technology is adopted by other plants in the United States, Johnson estimates that an additional one billion gallons of ethanol could be produced compared to using previous methods.

Iowa has 42 ethanol facilities and 12 biodiesel plants in the state.

Construction underway for biofuel station in NW Iowa

Nick Fetty | June 17, 2014
An ethanol plant near Marcus in Western Iowa. Photo via keeva999; Flickr
An ethanol plant near Marcus in Western Iowa.
Photo via keeva999; Flickr

Construction has recently begun on a new biofuel station in the Northwest Iowa town of Inwood.

Once completed, the Oak Street Station will provide motorists with various blends of ethanol (E10, E15, E30 and E85) as well as biodiesel (B5 and B99.9). The governor’s “Fueling Our Future” grant – a collaboration with the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship – provided $125,000 for the project. This grant is also helping to fund a similar project in the South Central Iowa town of Mouth Ayr.

According to data from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, there are 42 ethanol refineries and 12 biodiesel refineries in the state. Combined these facilities have an annual production capacity of more than four billion gallons.

Construction for the Inwood facility broke ground last week and is expected to be completed by January 2015.