"Corn is what we know best. Corn is what we do very well in terms of productivity. We see significant production capability for corn in Nebraska. We've always played to the livestock industry in the state, so we're going continue to grow corn here. We've always been a major exporter of corn. That's cost Nebraska producers because they must pay that differential to get their raw material to a market that could be somewhere, anywhere in the world. And so, marketing that product locally saves time, saves energy, saves those dollars and puts those back into producers' pockets. So, corn has been something that from a technological standpoint was easy to do. It allowed us to continue to respond to the needs of the livestock industry by keeping that distiller's feed, that protein in the state, feeding it here. And it's really allowed us an opportunity to build on what we know best in the state.
     "What we've seen as a result of that is a real response coming from those companies that provide genetics for seed corn in particular. And over the past couple of years, it's really been a spectacular technological evolution in that area. We have corn varieties today that are specifically suited for corn dry-milling plants or corn wet-milling plants. If you believe the corn you produce needs to be produced in 102 days and you're going to have a lot of wind in your area and you don't have much water to use and you'll ultimately market that to a dry-mill plant in your county, there are specific varieties that are that precisely engineered…
     "And if indeed we see a public policy that will require biofuels to be used in ever-increasing volumes, we all fully understand the need to find other biomass products that can be used. It doesn't matter if it's municipal waste. It doesn't matter if it's forestry products. It doesn't matter if it's food-processing waste. There's a whole host of products that are very good for producing ethanol. We've seen some marvelous things in the laboratory… So, that we can go from these pre-commercial demonstration units to full-scale demonstration and really start producing significant volumes of ethanol from a variety of different feed stocks, including forestry waste and rice straw, in California, for example. The benefit of that is that we can significantly increase our capability to produce renewable biofuels and satisfy a number of public policy objectives. I think from an economic development standpoint, that's very, very important because policy makers in California will see what our policy makers in Nebraska have seen – that capitalizing on this ethanol and biofuel development opportunity creates wealth within the state. It displaces petroleum products that come from external sources. It relies on domestic, indigenous products, in some cases waste products, to make these high-value fuels that improve not only the economy, but help improve the environment, as well…
     "Nebraska has one of the largest switchgrass demonstration programs in North America today. It's a wonderful research program and a huge opportunity in the future to use switchgrass, in all likelihood, as a source of ethanol. But areas in which that switchgrass is grown, the way that it's grown, the varieties that are used today are different from varieties we might use if you are cultivating it for a crop. So, we need to go through this process in a thoughtful, deliberative way, much the way we've gone through the evolution of other agricultural products if they're going to be used now for energy uses. So, I think that while there is huge promise for cellulose – I absolutely believe that it will become a commercial reality one day – it still is over the horizon. It will take an immense amount of capital investment, a huge research program, to help facilitate this move from basically a demonstration program to commercial use. And ultimately it's going to have to compete with corn. There's really nothing special about cellulous in terms of its capability to produce ethanol. At the end of the day, you still have a gallon of ethanol. And it has no special standing. It's simply a gallon of ethanol. So, I think that while this holds huge promise, we also need to temper that with the fact that there is this evolution going on that will take some time. It will take a massive commitment of capitol, research dollars, and public policy… We've actually around the world been making ethanol from cellulose for over 100 years. So, it's not a technological innovation necessarily. We're seeing new enzymes applied. We're seeing some new feedstocks and all. But, what we really need to do is make sure it's produced in an economic way. If we've looked at the economics of ethanol produced from cellulose, it seems like every few years we hear a pronouncement that ethanol from cellulose is about five years away. And I heard that in 1975. I heard that in 1980. And I heard that in 1985. And I heard that last week in Chicago – "It's about five years away." I'm optimistic that we're going to reach that five-year milestone some point here in the relatively near future. But I think many also take the look at the real commercial proving of this being – about five years away."

Todd Sneller – Alternative Ethanol Sources


Excerpts from Todd Sneller’s Interview:

The Bust of the 80s
Afghan Boycott & Ethanol
New Economic Development
Ethanol in Brazil
Biofuel Obstacles
Environmental Laws & Agriculture
Mining Water