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Ethanol - Looking Past the Pump

It’s more than just a field of corn. It goes beyond the feed fed to our livestock. And it’s providing more than just fuel in our tanks. Ethanol production here in Wisconsin supplies us with a renewable fuel source, reduces emissions in the air, and most importantly, supports the corn growers right here in our state.

Wisconsin’s nine ethanol plants produce more than 500 million gallons a year – making Wisconsin the ninth-largest ethanol producing state in the country. These plants use more than 180 million bushels of corn each year – about 37 percent of the state’s corn crop. Ethanol production in Wisconsin generates $4.2 billion in economic activity, impacting 19,000 jobs, with $982 million in wages, and generates $306 million in taxes.

Ethanol is now found in all ‘regular’ gasoline in Wisconsin because of its clean air benefit. Wisconsin has more than 140 E85 refueling stations for Flex Fuel Vehicle owners to fill up with fuel containing up to 85 percent ethanol. Because of growing consumer demand, some stations are adding blender pumps so drivers can use ethanol-blended fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol.

Looking past the pump, ethanol production yields more than just fuel. Through the processing of corn for ethanol, a protein rich livestock feed is also produced. Dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) are a valuable byproduct that are compromised of the non-starch portions of the corn kernel. Each bushel of corn (56 pounds) yields 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 17.5 pounds of dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS). In addition to food and fuel, pure carbon dioxide is also captured from the fermentation process and can be used for various applications, such as freeze drying or bottling beverages.

Here in the United States, we produce more than enough corn to supply both food and fuel. In fact, we are actually running a surplus of corn each year. Let’s break it down. In a typical growing season, 5.2 billion bushels of corn are used for livestock feed, 3.5 billion bushels go directly into the production of 13.5 billion gallons of ethanol, 1.3 billion bushels will be exported for feed purposes, and 733 million bushels will be carried over as surplus. These numbers will continue to increase as our corn growers continue to grow more corn using less land, water, and inputs. Today, these farmers are producing 68 percent more bushels per acre than 30 years ago while also reducing energy use by 43 percent, fertilizer use by 50 percent, crop irrigation by 53 percent, and soil loss by 67 percent per bushel.

Ethanol is also environmentally friendly as it reduces emissions into the air. The environmental benefits of ethanol can be traced all the way back to the corn field. Think of these fields as giant solar collectors that are transforming sunlight into a valuable product while also producing oxygen and sequestering carbon dioxide from the air. The benefits continue through the production process as today’s ethanol plants are producing more fuel with fewer inputs. For every 1 unit of energy invested into ethanol production, 2.3 units of energy are made available to the consumer. When it finally arrives in a fuel tank, this renewable fuel burns cleaner than gasoline, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40-50 percent.

This renewable fuel is grown right here in Wisconsin and supports our local corn growers, decreases our dependency on foreign oil, lowers fuel prices, reduces emissions into the air, and provides feed in addition to fuel. The next time you stop to fuel up, look beyond the pump and thank our local corn growers who provide all of us with these benefits. I truly appreciate these farmers when I stop to fuel up my E-85 Ford Explorer, Maizey, which is graciously donated to the Alice in Dairyland program by the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board. Make sure to keep an eye out for us as we continue to make our travels around America’s Dairyland.

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