Producer Spotlight : Al-Corn Clean Fuel

Interview with Randall Doyal, CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel

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Q. Where specifically has Al-Corn made the most significant improvements in production efficiencies since beginning production?

A. We started production in 1996.  Our largest improvements are a 15% increase in ethanol yield per bushel, 30% decreases in natural gas and electricity per gallon, and a 240% decrease in water use per gallon.  We continue to look for ways to improve yield, decrease energy and use less water.


Q. How long have you personally worked in the ethanol industry and what drew you to this career path?

A. I started in this industry in 1982.  I was working as a carpenter, and got hired on to do construction at a small ethanol plant in my home town.  When I arrived the first day I was walked through the one plant that was operating (another was under construction at that time).  Then I was told that I was a “cooker”.  Thankfully the “distiller” that was on duty showed me what I was supposed to do to produce batch cooks and fill a fermenter.  But no one could tell me why exactly we followed the steps we followed.  When I got off work that evening I went to the library at the local university and checked out just about every book I could find that talked about making alcohol, or fermentation, or even moonshining.  That was my introduction to the industry that has been my home and my passion ever since.

Q. Please share the impact that you feel Al-Corn has on the local economy and surrounding communities?

A. There are some impacts that are easy to quantify.  We are the largest tax payer in our community.  That has immediate impact on our community.  We have contributed to the success of our farmer members.  I can see that in the upgrades of their equipment from small single axle trucks to multiple tractor/trailer rigs for delivering their corn.  Seed and implement dealers love us.  We create a multitude of jobs from the vendors that supply us to the construction firms that help build and repair our facilities to the truckers who transport our finished products like CO2, ethanol, DDGS (livestock feed), and corn oil.

Q. How do you explain to consumers the myth of “Food vs Fuel” surrounding grain-based ethanol production?

A. Ethanol production in the US does not use “food”.  We use feed grain quality corn, corn that would have gone into feeding livestock.  The process converts the starch portion of the kernel into ethanol and CO2.  Some of the oil is recovered and is sold to make biodiesel or to feed livestock.  The remaining portion of the kernel is concentrated into a high quality livestock feed that is high in protein and digestible nutrients.  That product called Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles, DDGS, is sold into the livestock feeding market.  So we are producing both fuel and feed, and we are not using food to do so.

Q. Lots of talk lately in the energy world about RIN credits (Renewable Identification Number and is a renewable fuel credit). What is your take on why there as been such a significant price spike for RIN credits?

A. RIN price spikes are completely due to the oil industry’s desire to limit access to market for ethanol.  Ethanol producers are selling ethanol well below the rack (pretax) price of gasoline.  Each gallon of ethanol sold by a producer has a RIN attached, at no additional cost.  But the oil industry is rushing to buy additional RINs from nonobligated parties rather than allowing the entry of E15 to the market or correctly valuing and promoting E85.  So the oil industry is effectively raising the cost of gasoline by more than a dime a gallon by their action, when we could allow more lower priced ethanol to enter the market and reduce consumer costs. 

Expect this to continue, because it is clear that the oil industry does not want to lose any more market share to ethanol.  They will cover their additional obligation by buying high priced RINs rather than blending lower cost ethanol. And they will definitely increase the fight to eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard that creates the obligation. RFS sets definite targets for replacement of petroleum and is the law passed by Congress in 2007. The ethanol industry did its part to provide the product as the law required, but the oil industry has done virtually nothing to prepare for higher ethanol blends.   

Q. How do you see “second generation” or “advanced biofuel” technology meshing together with Minnesota’s existing biofuel plants and infrastructure?

A. I have long been a believer that if cellulosic ethanol actually becomes viable, it will be adapted by the existing industry in relatively short order.  We have always looked for ways to improve and expand on what we can do, and all of work toward increasing ethanol yield per bushel of corn we grind.  Being able to use the pericarp, the fiber portion of the kernel, would increase that yield.  Being able to process stover would significantly increase our total ethanol yield per acre, and that is another goal we strive for.  By the way, with the sort of yield per acre many of our members achieve in a normal crop year, and with the yield efficiency we have here at the plant, we are already producing 600 gallons of fuel ethanol or more per acre.