Farm Food Facts

The Transition to a Net Zero Economy with Biofuel, POET

July 12, 2021 USFRA Episode 109
Farm Food Facts
The Transition to a Net Zero Economy with Biofuel, POET
Show Notes Transcript

Jeff Broin is the Founder and CEO of POET, the world's largest producer of biofuels and bioproducts. He is a recognized innovator, entrepreneur, agriculturalist, philanthropist, and advocate for the biofuels industry.

POET currently operates 33 bioprocessing plants with a combined annual production capacity of 3 billion gallons of bioethanol, reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality nationwide. In addition, POET produces a growing number of sustainable bioproducts that are marketed worldwide, many of which displace harmful, petroleum-based products. For these continued advancements in biotechnology, POET was named to FORTUNE's 2019 'Change the World' list and recognized as one of Fast Company's 'Most Innovative Companies of 2019.'

Phil:

Welcome to Farm Food Facts. Today, one of the most important topics that we can address the transition to a net zero economy through biofuel. Our guest is Jeff Broin, the founder and CEO of POET, the world's largest producer of biofuels and bioproducts. He's a recognized innovator, entrepreneur, agriculturist, philanthropist and advocate for the biofuel fuels industry. POET currently operates 33 bioprocessing plants with a combined annual production capacity of 3 billion gallons of bioethanol reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality nationwide poet. Congratulations was named to Fortune's 2019 change the world list and recognized as one of fast company's most innovative companies of 2019. For more than 30 years, Jeff has played a critical role in producing renewable biofuels and bioproducts to address the national and global issues that surround agriculture health and climate change. He was a founding member of growth energy, the country's largest biofuels trade association and led the group for 10 years. He's received notable recognitions, including bios George Washington, Carver award, and the global bio-economy leadership award, an honorary doctorate of public service from South Dakota state university. Jeff, it is really a pleasure to welcome you to Farm Food Facts today.

Jeff:

Thanks Phil. Glad to be here.

Phil:

So I know you were a true champion for global agriculture. What's your utmost goal for agriculture?

Jeff:

Well, I haven't grown up on a farm. Uh, I think that , uh, agriculture is a key component to really everything that , that we face in life. Uh, and it's certainly the way we eat. And I think also in the future going to be a critical component in the way we fuel almost everything on the planet. Um, so, you know , we want to see egg be successful , uh, and we want to see egg, really power the world, and that's a big goal, but that's really what I think about every day.

Phil:

It's a huge goal. And you know, we're all behind you. 100%. Um, I guess I've got to ask though what's unique to biofuels that can enable the transition to a low carbon economy against the backdrop of other quote unquote clean energy alternatives.

Jeff:

Well, you know, agriculture is really , uh , provided by God we've got the sun , the soil and the seed, and quite frankly, everything in agriculture can be in sync with nature. Uh, the only problem today with biofuels that doesn't make us completely instinct when nature is that we're still using petroleum to power trucks and tractors, we're still using petroleum-based and chemicals, but quite frankly, if you really look about fuels a longer-term, they can be completely instinct when nature. So they were 46% better , um, than , uh, than gasoline in carbon emissions. So we're already almost 50% better. Uh, but in the future we can be a hundred percent better. So that's where we're heading.

Phil:

So I've got to ask you because trucking is certainly an issue, both for the environment, as well as the labor force. Um, you know, when, when I pumped gas into my car, there's a little sticker, you know, on the gas pump that says that it contains , uh, you know , 10% ethanol. If in fact ethanol is so much better as a biofuel than petroleum. Why is that number at 10% instead of 50% or a hundred percent?

Jeff:

Well, of course there are there blends out there. You can buy an , you can buy a flex fuel vehicle, but really that's , uh , that's been our longterm battle with the oil industry. Uh, they obviously have a very big stake in maintaining market share , uh, in , in, in, in keeping the percentage of , of gasoline in the tank very high because it keeps their profits very high. And so , uh, it has been a 33 year battle for me , uh, trying to get us to 15% ethanol, just that 10 to 15% battle is now 12 years old. Uh, and we are still battling every day in Washington and in the states against oil industry, they do not want to give up the gas thing and ag needs to get more of the gas thing . So it's, it's, it's a bit of a war.

Phil:

And not only does ag need to get more, but the environment needs to get more as well. Um, if , if we went from 10 to 15% ethanol , um, in our, in our fuel for our cars, what would the effect be?

Jeff:

Uh, it was significant where it significantly reduced tailpipe emissions. Uh , it would reduce greenhouse gases , uh , in the environment. Um, it would lower the cost of gasoline for consumers. Uh , so they win. Uh , it's a, win-win when the only negative really is for the oil industry, losing market share and becoming over supply and then hurting their profitability. So it's, there are no negatives to doing it. Um, you know , uh , the oil industry is, is the big hangup.

Phil:

So what do people , um, don't what, what do people not know about biofuels? What are those misconceptions , um, that you'd like them to understand?

Jeff:

Well, number one is they don't know it's good for their car. You know, I think there's been a lot of false information put out there on purpose , uh , by our competition, but they don't know that it's a, that it's go for their car. I mean, higher blends. I'm running east 30 and every vehicle I have this, the non flex fuel, it works fantastic. I mean, it's, there's all these misconceptions that is some, it's some bad component gas . And when actually it's the best component of gasoline and it's , it's clean burning, it's higher octane. It's , it's basically 200 proof vodka. Uh , it's , it's not bad. And so I think that's the number one conception. You look at Brazil, they're running up to 30% ethanol in the same car as we have works. Fantastic. So I think that's maybe the number one conception number two is that somehow we're competing with food and actuality, we're using the starch component of the corn kernel, which is really a waste product, is why it's very cheap. There's plenty of starch on the planet and all the good parts that protein oil and micronutrients go to other things. And most of it right back into the food supply. And so , um, you know, we're not affecting the food supply. In fact, the corn for ethanol would never be grown. And so we're enhancing the food supply by creating a market for the starch. We create the by-product Lister , which is protein that would never be grown. Uh, back in the eighties, when I was a kid on the farm, we set aside land for the us government. 20% of our land was producing nothing and being paid by the government to do that today , that produces fuel from the starch. And of course the protein oil and micronutrients , which is extra food that wouldn't be produced that goes all over the world.

Phil:

So leading this fabulous company , um , with 33 processing facilities, how are you finding ways to solidify a biofuels place as a viable climate solution?

Jeff:

Well, without question, we are , uh , probably the best near term solution to climate change. We're already here. We run on the cars that are out there. Um, we can produce more , uh, agriculture growing all over the planet. And so we are, we are a very good solution. That's here today and can make an impact , um , immediately. So , um, so, so we're, we're telling that story, obviously we're talking about 46% less greenhouse gas emissions. We're saying we can get much better, very quickly. Uh , we're helping farmers to get cleaner as well, and trying to kind of work on ways we can help farmers get cleaner and lower carbon emissions. And so I think we're telling the story everywhere we possibly can. Now of course, the competition is out there telling all kinds of lies and falsehoods and putting all kinds of things I'll do is have a huge battle in Indiana where the oil industry came at , uh , agriculture with lots of lies about biofuels, and we turned it around and got the governor to veto the bill. But it's, it's just a constant battle of getting the truth out. I'm a big believer that truth will prevail, but you've got to fight the battle and get the truth out.

Phil:

So what can farmers and ranchers and consumers and supermarkets and everybody else do to help you reinforce this, this message,

Jeff:

I think first, you know, by the product . So by the highest blend of ethanol, you can , uh , ask for a flexible vehicle at your, at your dealer and blend 30 or 50 by 30 or 50 or 85% ethanol . If you're a true believer, or if you're just driving a regular car, put put 15% or unleaded 88 in it when you can, but tell your neighbors and your friends tell them that bioethanol is a good product. Um , it's a great product and it's a product that , uh, that can replace gasoline and you can buy it today and really change your tailpipe emissions, not just helping , uh , lower the carbon, but just for your family. I mean, you're pumping less toxic emissions into your car, so you're not breathing them. You've got less toxic emissions coming to the tailpipe. If you're in your garage or your kids are standing by the tailpipe, you're , you're putting a cleaner product in the environment, not just for the world, but for your own family.

Phil:

Excellent point. Um, who else is involved , uh , closely in the bio fuel supply chain?

Jeff:

Uh, you know , um, there are many players, so the oil companies are big buyers and blenders of ethanol that can be, and start companies are big buyers and blenders of ethanol . Um, you know, every retail outlet in the country touches , uh, you know, the blends. So it's really , um, it's really a large , uh, group of , of, of companies all over the country and all over the world , uh, that, that really have a part in the supply chain.

Phil:

What, what are the checks and balances , uh, or the touch points that you have , um, to ensure that that biofuel is sustainable , um, and is , is trying to reach those goals that you're talking about?

Jeff:

Well, you know, one of the things we're working on, obviously the farmer is part of the supply chain as well, agriculture. And so we're, we're going back to , uh, agriculture. And , um, one of the things we worked on here is we've helped to create something called gradable, which is a wave to track the carbon intensity of farming. And long-term consumers in states that are big backers of , of low carbon fuel standards actually pay more for cleaner gasoline in those states. And some of that , uh, incentive at some point we hope will combat hollow back to the farm. So the farmer farms cleaner, so lower carbon intensity, there actually could be a financial reward in the future through, through , uh , processes or through , um, uh, tracking mechanisms like gradable and others. There are others in the market as well. So I think what you're going to see in the future is this push toward low carbon in every part of the economy. And part of that will be agriculture. Part of that will be our industry , uh , we're working on and becoming a lower carbon every day. Part of that will be anyone else's supply chain , uh, that , that, because the lower carbon, you can make a product in states of low carbon fuel standards, they'll pay a higher price for it.

Phil:

And last questions . Um, let's go back to the farm that you just mentioned, how do biofuels contribute to their vibrancy?

Jeff:

Well, without question, you know, today 40% of the corn crop is processed in an ethanol plant. Now, of course the by-product goes back into the food market, but without that market , uh, we'd have a huge issue. So back in the 1980s, when I was a teenager on the farm , uh, we were being paid to set aside 20% of our land. We were getting, we were getting , uh , payments from the government for part of our crop, but based on what price we sold it at, and then went in , and this year we're getting storage payment to start corn for up to five years, there was that much, their demand for corn was that low, that there were that many incentives to keep farmer alive. Uh , today a lot of those programs are gone , uh , biofuels created that market that tightened up the , the , the supply out there and worldwide supply and made farmers profitable. In fact, for about 10 years or very low subsidies to no subsidies for farmers. And , uh , today we're excited about continuing to do that. If we can increase the percentage of ethanol in the gas tank as yields go up, because yields are ever increasing, they have been my entire lifetime. They have, since the 1920s yields have been going up and they're still going up , uh, we needed to take that extra yield, turn it into fuel and byproducts , um, and, and , uh , balance the supply and demand. So the farmer has a fair price worldwide. If you want the farmer to farm cleaner, he has to be profitable and biofuels, tighten up the grain supply to make the farmer profitable so he can invest in, in nature Conservancy. He can invest in buffer strips, along waterways. You can invest in , in farming cleaner , um, so that he can have a cleaner product and hopefully longterm these low carbon fuel standards and values. And some of those states that drive the farmer to farm cleaners as well.

Phil:

Which makes me take back my last comment that that was the last question. Um, let me ask one more and then I promise I'll let you go cause I know you, you've got a very tight busy schedule , um, looking into your crystal ball and you know, where, where are biofuels in , in five years with the new , um, much more environmentally conscious , um, administration that hopefully offering wind to your back?

Jeff:

Well, I think that we could hopefully , uh , with the backing of this administration, we hope they will stand strongly against the oil industry and with the biofuels industry. Hopefully we can be at E15 , uh , within five years, we should dovetail nicely with increases in yield that are coming at us. Um, in addition, I think there's still potential for cellulose. Um, I'm not sure what form that's going to be. I'm not just going to be biological or , or another means, but let's not forget that cellulose is the largest source of energy on the planet earth that comes from the sun, not from below the surface of the earth that can be used to produce energy. And so I think you'll see more and more ways to use biomass to use this 1.3 to 1.5 billion, tons annually. We have this going to waste , uh , to produce fuel. And I think that that's , uh , that's going to dovetail also with the growth in ethanol production. So it's a pretty exciting future , uh, for agriculture. Um, I'm not sure they see it yet. I hope they're starting to see it , but I think it's a very exciting future for agriculture

Phil:

Well, with having you out there telling them about it , uh, hopefully they'll see it sooner than later. And thank you for everything that you and everybody at POET is doing for me as an individual , uh , us as an industry of, of agriculture and the world. Thank you for joining us today on Farm Food Facts.

Jeff:

You bet. Thanks Phil. Great to talk to you.

Phil:

For more on all things, food and agriculture, please visit [email protected] Also be sure to look out for us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers and on Twitter at USFRA until next time.