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Touring the Roots of Ethanol Sustainability in Iowa

August 31, 2022

Agriculture, E15, Events, RFA News, State News


By: Mikayla McKenna, RFA Communications Manager


Recently, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association held its 13th annual Science and Sustainability Tour, and it was my first experience on the tour. I represented the Renewable Fuels Foundation, one of the title sponsors of the tour every year since its inception back in 2010. Each year, the tour gives farmers, ethanol producers, and renewable fuels advocates like me an excellent opportunity to show policymakers and regulators who we are and what we do.


Staffers from around the country, including House and Senate offices and the Environmental Protection Agency, made up most of the 55 participants. RFA Vice President for Industry Relations Robert White would later join the tour, showing off RFA’s Flex Fuel E85 Jeep and giving the group an ethanol industry update that included topics such as the Renewable Fuels Standard, RINs, small refinery exemptions, ethanol exports, octane and carbon.


Throughout the tour, we encountered several different elements of the ethanol industry, all relating back to sustainability, and where the future is heading for renewable fuels and their coproducts.


  • At a John Deere demonstration field, in a tour led by Stacey Pallett, I learned about the latest in precision agriculture technology, having the opportunity to see the See & Spray sprayer that also debuted this year at the 2022 National Ag Day on the National Mall in Washington.
  • We traveled to the new VERBIO renewable natural gas plant for a tour led by Greg Faith, the plant manager. I learned about their plant and how the RFS and other carbon policies impact renewable natural gas.
  • We also went to the Iowa State University Sustainable Advanced Bioeconomy Research (SABR) Farm, where we met Drs. Marshall McDaniel and Andy VanLoocke. We toured the research facility and learned about the latest agricultural advancements in sustainable energy crops for biofuels and bioproducts. Dr. McDaniel was a professor of mine at Iowa State and was one of the leaders of my first international agriculture trip to Spain, which greatly influenced me in studying international agriculture today.
  • At a Sparky’s filling station, we saw how and why retailers offer various biofuels blend – E15, E85, and biodiesel, learning about the equipment needed (such as blender pumps) and heard about how customers are responding to these lower-cost fuels.
  • We visited the Wendl feedlot for a tour led by Brian Wendl. He discussed the advancements in modern livestock production that allow for more humane, sustainable and efficient small and local beef operations. Wendl also explained the importance that distillers grains play in his livestock’s diets for keeping them happy and healthy.
  • We also toured Elite Octane’s ethanol plant, led by plant manager Mike Messin. We reviewed the ethanol production process and learned about advancements in efficiencies.
  • As someone raised on an Iowa farm, I enjoyed seeing the seventh-generation Pellett Family Farm, where I learned about the latest seed technology and agronomic practices for corn and soybeans and saw advances in precision farming equipment. We discussed how biofuel, environmental and trade policy impact their family farm operation.
  • Perhaps surprisingly for some, we also visited Atlantic Bottling Co. and toured the Coca-Cola bottling facility, which utilizes biofuel coproducts (such as captured CO2 and fructose) and learned about the indirect economic impact of renewable fuels in local communities.
  • Finally, at Green Plains Renewable Energy headquarters, we learned more about the latest innovative processes used to transform renewable crops into sustainable high-value ingredients.


Collectively, each of the stops gave us participants different perspectives of the ethanol sector and how it has become more sustainable for the environment as the industry as a whole works towards our net-zero carbon goal. The tour helped educate key policy influencers in Washington by providing face-to-face experiences that demonstrate the breadth of the industry, from farm to fuel tank—and, yes, even a can of Coke. I was honored to be a part of the tour and represent the Renewable Fuels Foundation, learning more about the ethanol industry and helping those participants understand it as well.