VIEWPOINT | A bright future exists for ethanol and corn production, if we allow it
Guest column by Walt Wendland, Ringneck Energy president and CEO
Most South Dakotans agree that we can’t underscore the importance of corn production for our state. This is why many farmers, ethanol producers, politicians and agriculture-focused associations continue advocating for the use of carbon capture technology to secure a steady corn market. In fact, last month, the South Dakota Corn Growers Association endorsed the use of this technology and CO2 pipelines, effectively backing the need for such technology to ensure a strong market demand for corn production continues in the coming decades.
Ethanol producers purchase about 70 percent of the corn grown in South Dakota, and since 2021, 13 ethanol plants in the state have agreed to be a part of Summit Carbon Solutions’ CO2 pipeline. This includes Ringneck Energy in Onida, where I am president and CEO. I have stated before how important it is for ethanol plants to have access to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) so that we can tap into new, low-carbon fuel markets and grow the corn industry.
Perhaps one of the most glaring examples of emerging markets is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Recently, the South Dakota Ethanol Producers Association commissioned a study on SAF, which found tremendous opportunities for South Dakota, farmers and ethanol producers, so long as we take steps to be active participants in making it a reality.
You may wonder how SAF ties into ethanol production and the CO2 pipelines. Many industries, airlines included, have set goals to have net-zero emissions by 2050. However, it is incredibly difficult to electrify an airplane in a cost-effective way, meaning that a low-carbon fuel is the answer to meeting this goal. As previously stated, if ethanol plants, like Ringneck Energy, can utilize CCS through Summit’s pipeline, all ethanol we produce will be classified as low-carbon fuel and can be used for SAF. This is an enormous opportunity for anyone with ties to the corn industry, or farmers who sell their product to ethanol producers.
That being said, the study clearly states that such potential cannot be fully realized without CCS technology for ethanol. Without Summit’s pipeline, ethanol producers and farmers cannot tap into this economic bolster that is SAF. Let’s dive into the facts.
If South Dakota enables CCS, our state has the potential to capture 400 million gallons of new ethanol production that could come online to support SAF production.
Construction of new ethanol production capacity to support this growth is expected to generate $628 million in new output, with millions more expected from construction costs and other new facilities.
The impacts to the South Dakota economy from construction of new plants to support SAF will likely result in several thousand jobs in the years when the plants are being built. It is likely that new plants will result in quality, long-term jobs for those who work at the plants.
Across our state, with the assumption that these new ethanol plants will use approximately 147 million bushels of corn annually and with oilseeds crush plants likely add $128 million of additional income to farmers.
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I encourage farmers to read and engage with the remaining benefits mentioned in this study. The bottom line is that with the emergence of SAF, ethanol has a bright future ahead to support this up-and-coming industry. However, it is only through Summit’s CO2 pipeline that we will be able to reach this goal and tap into these benefits.
South Dakota farmers and ethanol producers deserve this major economic victory. Therefore, it is imperative for Summit’s project to receive the support necessary to cross the finish line. The future of ethanol, SAF, and robust corn markets depend greatly on our ability to come together and achieve a win for CO2 pipelines and South Dakota.
Walt Wendland is the chairman, president and CEO at Ringneck Energy in Onida, South Dakota. He also serves as board president of the South Dakota Ethanol Producers Association.