Farm Food Facts

Renewable Fuels with Jeff Broin from POET

March 03, 2020 USFRA Episode 66
Farm Food Facts
Renewable Fuels with Jeff Broin from POET
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Renewable Fuels with Jeff Broin from POET
Mar 03, 2020 Episode 66
USFRA

Jeff Broin, the founder and CEO of POET, the world's largest producer of biofuels, is here to talk to us today about the role that agriculture plays in renewable fuels. Jeff was presented with the American Biofuel Visual Award by Growth Energy. This award recognized him for a lifetime of dedication to advancing the biofuels industry. His work in the industry has brought environmental benefits and economic opportunities to individuals and communities across the globe. As CEO of POET, Jeff built the company from a small 1 million gallon per year facility back in 1987 to now the world's largest biofuel producer with 1.8 billion gallons of annual fuel production and 10 billion pounds of high protein animal field, among other products.

Show Notes Transcript

Jeff Broin, the founder and CEO of POET, the world's largest producer of biofuels, is here to talk to us today about the role that agriculture plays in renewable fuels. Jeff was presented with the American Biofuel Visual Award by Growth Energy. This award recognized him for a lifetime of dedication to advancing the biofuels industry. His work in the industry has brought environmental benefits and economic opportunities to individuals and communities across the globe. As CEO of POET, Jeff built the company from a small 1 million gallon per year facility back in 1987 to now the world's largest biofuel producer with 1.8 billion gallons of annual fuel production and 10 billion pounds of high protein animal field, among other products.

Phil:

Farm food facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for March 4th, 2020 I'm your host Phil Lempert. Did you know that it was renewable energy day on March 1st neither did I. Staying on that topic with us today is Jeff Broin, the founder and CEO of POET, the world's largest producer of biofuels, who's here to talk to us today about the role that agriculture plays in renewable fuels. Jeff was presented with the American biofuel visual award by growth energy. This award recognized him for a lifetime of dedication to advancing the biofuels industry. His work in the industry has brought environmental benefits and economic opportunities to individuals and communities across the globe. As CEO of poet, Jeff built the company from a small 1 million gallon per year facility back in 1987 to now the world's largest biofuel producer with 1.8 billion gallons of annual fuel production and 10 billion pounds of high protein animal field. Among other products, our own CEO, Erin Fitzgerald of us farmers and ranchers Alliance moderated a panel, the farmer to farmer conference. And Jeff, you are one of the panelists. What was your takeaway from that session and the farmers that you spoke with?

Jeff:

Well , it was a great day. It was a great opportunity to talk with a lot of farmers and you know, we built our business partnering with farmers. We have about 4,000 farmer investors today and it was a good chance to get in front of them and talk about the ag situation on the farm today. You know, farmers, farmers in a bit of a crisis, certainly facing some really difficult times. And to really remind them that biofuels could, could help them out of the situation. You know, if you look back to the ag crisis, the 1980s, it was really biofuels over the next decade, decade and a half that pulled our nation out of that head crisis. And so I reminded them of that and kind of showed them a bit of a, of a roadmap to the future as I see it for agriculture.

Phil:

So Jeff, tell me a bit about how and why you started POET.

Jeff:

Well, again , uh , it goes all the way back to the ag crisis in the 1980s. My father was a farmer and when I was a teenager on the farm and the times were pretty tough, you know, we had, we had animals so we were able to put some of our crop through animals. We had a lot of crop that we had to sell below the cost of production. And certainly there were government programs to help bring the prices up, which were literally subsidies. But my father had some vision and built a small plant on our farm to make ethanol or biofuels. And so we took the by product and , then fed it to our own animals, the protein, but use the starch portion to make fuel that could power cars that actually went into the Minneapolis market and ended up in cars. And , uh , you know , from that small start on my father's farm where he was literally trying to add value for his own corn, we learned enough about the economics to buy a bankrupt plant , the early 1980s in East South Dakota. Uh, and I moved there at the age of 22 to start this business and it was just a 1 million gallon per year plan. So we started with 13 employees. Today we have 2000, we started with 1 million gallons today where we actually produce close to 2 billion gallons and uh , just had tremendous success and growth turning low-price crops into, into higher price energy while producing, you know, high quality, high protein feeds at the same time. Eventually that brought the farm economy actually to a very successful point, a about a little over a decade ago where farmers were in high cotton and prices for commodities were very high and that never would have happened without biofuels growth. So today the industry is trying to move from 10% ethanol, 15% ethanol. We have battled our own government at times the EPA, we have battled the oil companies really written a really that battle against oil companies, you know, and , and the politics that go along with trying to take some market away from the wealthiest companies in the world. And we've had a very hard time getting to 15% of it all. Where are we able to do that? We're now moving down that path. Had we gotten that done seven, eight, nine years ago when we were planning to do it, but we were held up by politics. Farmers wouldn't be in trouble today. You know, here we're having crisis again and farmers haven't made money for years. We've got some farmers starting to commit suicide in rural America. I mean, there's some tough things going on. And once again, biofuels can be the catalyst to pull agriculture out of these difficult times.

Phil:

You mentioned your fight with the traditional fuel industry. What would you say to those people that say, you know, traditional fuel prices have come down significantly? Why do we need biofuels?

Jeff:

Well, even with their prices coming down, well we are still cheaper than they are, you know , and we could even still be cheaper than they are at a price where farmers can make a profit. So number one, we're lower costs . Number two, when you burn ethanol, you get carbon dioxide and water and the carbon dioxide goes into next year's corn plant. It is the only liquid fuel that can ever be in sync with nature. Today. It's a significantly cleaner than gasoline. And when we get rid of some of the hydrocarbons, use it to haul it around and and used in the tractors and trucks and some of the hydrocarbons used and eventually in fertilizers and chemicals, we can actually be truly in sync with nature. There's really no other fuels that can be truly in sick when nature is very difficult and we're facing climate change, our cities have unprecedented pollution. You see the black smog hanging over sea like Los Angeles, we can make that go away with biofuels. Certainly reduce it significantly while saving the consumers money and lifting up the agricultural economy. Now that's a win, win, win for everybody. On the planet except the oil,

Phil:

oil companies. That's okay. That's okay. Uh , so let me ask you, you know, you're using the term biofuel. You had said ethanol. What are the varieties of biofuels that are, that are out there today or to come?

Jeff:

Well, there are really only a couple of significant ones. You've got ethanol or bioethanol, which comes from the starch and the corn kernel and also can come from cellulose. You've got biodiesel that's out there in the marketplace, obviously in the diesel market. And then you've got some renewable diesel that's starting to come into the market. That's about it. As far as biofuels, I mean there are not a lot of them. There's some people talk about LJ longterm play, not coming in a big way anytime soon. Plata chatter out there, but you know, maybe our grandchildren will use it, but not soon. We're here today or cheaper today. We can expand a day . There's too much commodities on the planet today. We can clean up the air, we can reduce global warming. We get blocked in Washington, you know, we get blocked in the States. We have blocked in the markets we blocked by or did they say UL and we get, we get bad press. It's not true from groups that are paid to do that. So this is a real battle for the gas tank. I think, you know, the American farmer needs to understand he's in a battle for the gas tank and oil doesn't want to give it up and they've got to have it. If they don't get it, it's going to be a long hard ride for agriculture.

Phil:

So what should farmers and consumers and gas retailers be doing to really change this if in fact everything that you're saying is correct and I believe that it is cleaner fuel, cheaper fuel, you know, better for the environment and so on. And I understand politics, what should we all be doing?

Jeff:

You know, obviously farmers need ag. Companies and ag organizations need to work together, done better in the last couple of years than we have in the past. We all need to work together toward a common goal of more biofuels, which by the way, it creates more protein, which will lower the price of protein in the world because the crops that go to bio fuels would never be grown. We would either have to shut down land like we did in the sixties seventies and eighties a billion acres when I lived around the world during that time. What do we subsidize grain ? We need to make sure that we're all on the same page, fighting for more market to keep prices up for farmers and to clean up the environment. Now E15 has already been approved, so if 15 is the short term opportunity, it , it solves the worldwide ag over supply would've been nice to get there six, seven years ago. Even fighting it politically for 11 years. We're starting to grow in the marketplace. We all need to get behind that movement. The USDA is very excited about that movement, so we're moving to unload Pathi 15 but now we need to start working on the next blend , which is going to be probably 30 30% ethanol. So that's what I think ag needs to do as far as consumers. Consumers need to purchase E15, which creates cleaner tailpipe emissions. It's higher octane is better for your vehicle. It's a great fuel, higher blends. The fifteens used in NASCAR, it's used in the toughest conditions on the planet. It's also sold as unleaded 88 so if you see it unleaded 88 at the pump picked up that hose, you're going to save a few cents a gallon, you're going to get the same mileage, you're going to be cleaner tailpipe emissions, and you're supporting American farmers while you're doing it. So it's a win, win, win. Everybody wins.

Phil:

So Jeff, look into your crystal ball. If everything works the way you would like it to be, where is ethanol and biofuels in five years from now, 10 years from now?

Jeff:

Well, as you know, yields on crops continue to go up and not only do yields go up in the U S so we're having more and more and more commodities and it's not a market for it. We have that happening around the world as well. So South American yields are going up on it . We're working in Africa right now through a nonprofit that our company created called seeds of change. We're able to pick farmer's yields up on everything on their farm, including even even chickens, but crops especially 400 to 900% and so you look at a continent like Africa, it's running at about 20% capacity on the land. This farm there today, we can get another 80% capacity out of that land was simple education and a model that we've helped develop here at poet that works unbelievably well. We've already helped though. We're working with 160,000 farmers to do that right now. And there's six people on each farms that's almost a million. People's lives were changed and we create more commodities that can provide starch and cellulose produce energy and protein, oil and Micronutrients to feed animals and people. So this ability for the earth to produce enough commodities to replace oil is something people think can't happen. And it very easily can happen if you look at the data, if you look at the land, it's out there. There's a billion acres. We're not a production. While the U S and Europe subsidized grain for 50 years, that billion acres doesn't even have to come back into production if we use the current land efficiently, and we still will have enough commodities to replace petroleum. So if we really want to stop climate change, if we really want to clean up our air, if we really want to stop breathing all these chemicals in our cities, because it's not just in the air outside your house, it's in your house, people need to understand that there's an option to turn to agriculture.

Phil:

Well, Jeff, I can understand why you would be presented with the American biofuel visionary award. Congratulations on that, and thank you for joining us today on farm food facts. For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit food dialogues.com under the programs and media tab and visit us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.