MN Fuels Blog

Family Fun, Food, and Learning at Farmfest
August 6, 2018
If you have any interest in big machinery or technology, this week’s Farmfest is an event you don’t want to miss. We’ve already learned about all the energy savings and technological efficiencies of the operations at an ethanol plant, but what about some of the latest technologies used on a farm? The place to see all of this first-hand is in Redwood County this week.

From August 7-9, Farmfest takes over the fields near Morgan, MN. The largest outdoor Ag event in Minnesota, Farmfest features some amazing equipment on display, a chance for networking with Ag industry leaders, the latest in farm technology, rural policy forums, and all sorts of news, educational resources, and family-friendly activities. This year, with the primary and midterm elections on many people's minds, there will be four political forums giving those attending Farmfest the opportunity to hear candidates talk about important issues.

One not-to-miss attraction at Farmfest is the Minnesota Corn Growers Association booth space. In addition to learning all about the countless ways “MN Corn Grows MN,” you can have a chance to try sweet corn ice cream and DDGS fortune cookies. DDGS, or dried distillers grains (with solubles), is one of the co-products of producing ethanol for our vehicles. While there are 400,000 drivers in Minnesota who have flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on higher blends of ethanol fuel like E30, E50, or E85, you may not realize that nearly every drop of unleaded fuel in Minnesota is blended with 10% ethanol.

Not only does ethanol blended fuel help preserve our air quality, its production also touches and benefits many areas of our local economies, such as the DDGS, which is a high protein livestock feed. Ethanol production is an important driver in our state's economy and at Farmfest, you can see just how much this locally-made fuel means to Minnesota.

More Alcohol from Corn - More Al-Corn Clean Fuel
August 1, 2018
Twenty-two years ago, Al-Corn Clean Fuel opened up outside the small southern Minnesota farming community of Claremont (pop. 548).  In April 2018, this ethanol-from-corn ‘biorefinery’ completed an expansion from 50 million to 120 million gallons per year of fuel ethanol capacity. The plant’s annual throughput is now 47 million bushels of field corn, which has historically been sourced from a tight radius in southern Minnesota.

The 240% increase in capacity also dramatically increases Al-Corn’s co-product output of dried distillers grains livestock feed and corn oil. The plant will now churn out 311,000 tons of the high-protein feed and 26 million pounds of corn oil.

Those numbers alone are quite notable, but what's more is that Al-Corn was the first “zero liquid discharge” ethanol plant. Their process does not use a city sewer system or any ditches. All of Al-Corn’s process water is recycled, with the exception of what evaporates from its cooling towers. That results in impressively low water usage of just two gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced (for reference, this is less than it takes to refine one gallon of gasoline). Like in many other industries today, technology is rapidly changing, resulting in more operational efficiencies. Al-Corn is no different; in fact, their energy use has decreased 35% compared to their early years. 

The uninitiated might just buzz by the collection of buildings, tanks and billowing steam poking out from a cornfield along State Highway 14 without realizing its significance, and most would be surprised to learn of the amount of business that comes out of this small place. Minnesotans will find the ethanol produced near Claremont in the E10, E15 and E85 with which they fuel their cars, and Al-Corn’s corn oil is used in biodiesel as well as in turkey feed. Dried distillers grains from Claremont go to feed turkeys and chickens as well as beef and dairy cattle. And a good share of the plant’s carbon dioxide has long been collected and used in the meat packing industry. But Minnesotans aren’t the only people to benefit. Customers in China use Al-Corn’s livestock feed and it has been exported to other far-flung locales including countries such as Columbia and Ireland.

While Al-Corn's products touch countless consumers, perhaps no export out of Claremont has made a bigger impression than their chief executive officer. The board at Al-Corn Clean Fuel has trusted one person to manage its operations from the beginning: Randy Doyal. Randy is an engaging spokesperson who has served for decades in statewide and national roles. Managing an industrial operation, overseeing its $146 million expansion, business travel, public speaking, media inquiries, and hosting trade delegations all have kept him busy. But Randy is never too busy to accommodate a high school class or university engineering students who want to know about biofuels. He is always ready to tout Al-Corn’s success in boosting its energy and water efficiencies.

Quick Numbers Overview

The Al-Corn Clean Fuel process converts a single 56-pound bushel of corn into the following:
2.88 gallons of ethanol;
15.43 pounds of high-protein livestock feed;
0.74 pounds corn oil; and
That’s not counting the beverage-grade carbon dioxide that is collected and sold (approximately 70,000 tons each year)!

Independent Retailer Highlight: Severson's in Winona
July 24, 2018
We began this month focusing on an independent auto service and fuel retailer from the metro area to celebrate National Independent Retailer Month. For this week’s featured retailer, we caught up with Josh Severson of Severson Oil out of Winona, Minnesota.

Severson's first decided to add E15 and E85 to their product offerings in 2016.  Beginning with just the one station, they wanted to see how it performed and how customers responded. Josh stated, “We saw it as a product that would help us stay competitive in our marketplace while simultaneously providing our customers with lower cost, cleaner options. Our customers seem to like having the other options.” He added that the E15 blend in particular has grown in popularity at his stations. Severson Oil has just recently completed another station upgrade this past spring and now have two locations offering the renewable E85 and cleaner-burning E15 options.

Josh says, “A lot of our success comes from all of the great co-workers we have at our stores.  Several have been with us for many years.  Being a local independent store has also helped us to differentiate ourselves in the market. We appreciate all of our customers we’ve had over the years.”

Part of the significance of celebrating independent retailers is the idea that by shopping local you are helping to create a sustainable community. This family-owned business, who is also part of the flex fuel family, is a great example of that. When you fill your tank with an ethanol blended fuel at Severson's, you’re also helping a Minnesota based industry, helping your local economy, and you can feel good knowing that ethanol is a renewable fuel.

You can find the Severson's locations in Winona or whoever your closest retailers may be on our retail finder page.

On The Track Or At Your Corner Station, Ethanol Fuels Offer High Octane Performance
July 18, 2018
In the auto racing world, ethanol fuels have become widely accepted as one of the best ways to get optimum performance on the track. NASCAR has been using E15 for several years and Indy-style racers use E85. Ethanol is also a popular choice for racers on the small tracks, both paved and dirt, which can be found throughout rural Minnesota.

Fiesta Speedway, at the Chippewa County Fairgrounds in Montevideo, and Viking Speedway, located at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Alexandria, are both good examples. The tracks host events featuring a number of classes of race cars:  WISSOTA Late Models, WISSOTA Modifieds, WISSOTA Midwest Mods, WISSOTA Street Stocks, WISSOTA Super Stocks, and Pure Stocks.

Local corn and soybean growers from Chippewa county will be gathering at the Fiesta Speedway on
Friday, July 20 for a special "Jam the Stands" evening at the races. Similarly, Douglas, Pope, Todd and Stearns counties will join together at Viking Speedway on Saturday, July 28 for their “Jam the Stands” event. The county corn and soybean growers recognize racing fans as a great audience to connect with about the benefits of ethanol blended fuels, so all grandstand tickets are free that evening, and will include information on the renewable fuel.

Both "Jam the Stands" events in Montevideo and in Alexandria are also connected with a biofuel promotion. Before the racing even begins, fuel stations in Clara City, Montevideo, and Alexandria will be discounting their biofuels, making them even less expensive than they already are compared to regular petroleum-based fuels.

Cleaner-burning fuels like E85 and E15 not only offer higher octane power on the racetrack, they can also be used by many vehicles on the road today, maybe even yours!

Where Every Customer is a VIP
July 12, 2018
July is National Independent Retailer Month, so for the next couple weeks we will highlight a couple independent retailers in our state offering the renewable and locally produced ethanol fuels.

One member of the family of ethanol retailers in Minnesota is VIP Auto in Plymouth. The current owner-operator of the station, Chris Robbins, shared some insight with us about his experience as an independent retailer in the Plymouth community.

His opportunity to be in the auto service and fuel industry started with his grandfather, Jerry, who began the family’s journey as independent business owners in 1959. Chris, now a third-generation operator, is thankful for the continued partnership and support he has that comes from nearly 60 years of family experience in the industry. He states, “Basically growing up in gas station, I’ve been amazed to see the advances in technology. As a business and as a family our philosophy has always been ‘How can we make things better?’ When ethanol fuels came to the market, it was clear that this was one of those opportunities.”

In 2014, there were only a few stations in Plymouth that offered E85, and just one that also had E15 available for drivers. It was later that year when Plymouth VIP Auto also began offering E85 and E15 for their customers. Chris notes, “Every year the percent of sales from E85 and E15 continue to climb as consumers become more familiar with these fuels and vehicle manufacturers embrace the product.” His positive experience with adding flex fuel options at this station have lead him to begin the process of adding them at another site in New Hope, set to open later this year. “Knowing that we can offer a better, cleaner burning fuel at a lower price point for our customers is extremely satisfying.”

“Having ethanol fuels at our locations has helped differentiate us from other stations in our market.  Offering a wide variety of fuel choices has increased our customer loyalty and established us as a unique destination in this area. Our customers prefer to buy local when possible and in the same way, as a small business we enjoy supporting our community through partnerships with local crime and fire prevention, schools, and other nonprofit organizations. Our customers support us, we support our customers and together we build a stronger community.”

Independent fuel retailers have a lot of decisions to make about their businesses and VIP Auto is one of those who have decided to offer its customers more choices at the pump.

Fueling Better in Minnesota, Thanks to POET
July 9, 2018
You see ethanol blend fuels all across Minnesota, but have you ever wondered where the ethanol is produced? In this post, we’ll look at one major ethanol producer in our state: POET Biorefining.

POET has grown from a single refinery in South Dakota to become one of the largest producers of ethanol fuel in the world with more than twenty-five plants across seven different states. Four of those POET plants are in Minnesota: one in Albert Lea (Glenville), in Bingham Lake, in Lake Crystal, and in Preston. These four Minnesota facilities have a combined output of approximately 179 million gallons of ethanol fuel every year.

The POET plants also produce other useful products such as dried distiller’s grains and corn oil (sold under the Voilà brand name). Many Minnesotan ethanol plants are now recovering corn oil, which is used to make biodiesel. So the facilities are now producing two renewable fuels and a highly marketable protein-packed animal feed, all from the same bushel of corn that was once used solely as livestock feed.

POET plants not only provide a market for Minnesota’s farmers, they also provide badly needed jobs in rural communities. The ethanol industry as a whole contributes billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

So when you fill your tank with a cleaner-burning ethanol blended fuel, you’re also helping a growing industry, helping our local economy, and helping to keep our air a little healthier.

Read about another of the ethanol producers in Minnesota here.

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