By LARRY KERSHNER
For The Messenger
GOWRIE - With the sounds of a maintenance crew in the background, Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy, spoke Wednesday like a man with a mission for advancing the use of more ethanol.
The former Democratic presidential candidate talked with reporters outside the POET ethanol plant in Gowrie prior to meeting privately with local investors of the plant. The Gowrie facility was idle during a scheduled maintenance shutdown.
Clark said his tour encouraging the national transition from E-10 to E-15 "and hoping our government will move us up to E-20 or E-30" included sites in Minnesota earlier in the week and in Kansas today.
"This is a big part of the president's plan for energy independence," he said.
"I'm like a little bee going from flower to flower," Clark added, "pollinating with ideas, talking various things with various people, with the press, to build a wave of momentum to get E15 across America."
Speaking with machine gun rapidity, the retired Army general has positioned himself as a champion of the ethanol industry.
"Every barrel of ethanol produced is a barrel of imported oil we can avoid," he said. "A barrel of oil is over $100 and that's money sucked right out of the American pocketbook."
He indicated that it was a shame that the U.S. spends $1,000 per capita annually to buy oil from other countries, "when we can produce our own liquid fuel right here in America."
When asked about the loss of the blender's credit and what's happening that stocks of excess ethanol is building nationally, Clark said, "nothing is happening.
"The truth is ethanol is 25 to 80 cents cheaper than gasoline, depending on where you are. Gasoline refining is a known art, it's fixed, not much you can do with it.
"But this is a new industry. We built this technology and, every year, guys like Gary get better and better and better at extracting three gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn."
He referred to Gary Eischeid, general manager of the Gowrie plant,
Clark complemented American farmers' success at extracting from 160 to 220 bushels of corn per acre as just as crucial as the skills of those distilling ethanol.
"So we are in the sweet spot of what is essentially American industry right here," Clark said of the Midwest. "The agricultural industry is one of the strengths of America, (with its) technology, ingenuity and entrepreneurship.
"This plant is only five years old, employs 46 people, has local investors, business people from within this area, (many who) are farmers, working their land, invested in the agricultural business - and every year we make this plant better."
Eischeid confirmed that the Gowrie plant, as with other POET facilities and ethanol plants in general, is extracting corn oil from byproducts for sale to biodiesel facilities.
That fact opened a new field of fire for Clark's enthusiasm.
"So we just get better and better," he said. "First it was ethanol, then distiller's dried grain - a huge product - they're loading it out, it's much in demand including in China. And now we learned how to get the corn oil out of it and still sell the DDG, which is a very high quality, a premium product.
"So there's no telling what else we're going to pull out of this."
Clark said he learned at the Sygenta plant in Minneapolis, on Monday, how the industry is using genetic engineering to facilitate more productivity per kernel of corn for ethanol.
"It's just an amazing thing," he said.
He noted the corn grown in 2012 is not the same as just a few decades ago.
"It's not the same old agriculture," he said. "It's not the same old ethanol. It really does change.
"I'm here for national defense and national security, so I just think this is a tremendous industry for America."
He compared ethanol investors and technicians to Bill Gates. "(Gates) did it with ones and zeros on a blank sheet of paper," he said, "and here they are turning the earth, putting up metal and producing a product.
"We created this industry from whole cloth in America. And there is no subsidy. This is market competitive and beating the gasoline market by up to a dollar a gallon."
The answer to American's worry about rising gas prices is to use more ethanol, Clark said.
"The car will run just fine on it and we've got plenty. Give us the chance to compete on Wall Street and this country would go like gang-busters.
"All we're looking for in the ethanol business is a chance to compete."
To get U.S. consumers to make the shift from E-10 to E-15, Clark said he hoped for a little government assistance to get the necessary blender pumps online. He said distributors can make 2 to 3 cents per gallon, or more, for E-15.
When asked if consumers will make the shift to higher ethanol blends, Clark was positive.
"It's coming, and it's coming real soon with the price of gas where it is."
Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.