Ethanol Fuels Energy’s Future

Amidst the slopes in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, you’ll find Shane Goplin’s grain and forage farm in Trempealeau County.

Goplin practices no-till or minimum-till — using the least amount of tillage that he can in order to preserve the soil. With weather events that come through periodically, no-till and cover crops have been essential to keeping that soil in place on Goplin’s farm.  

“When we can keep our soil healthy, we can keep our soil happy,” says Goplin, who serves on the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association Board of Directors.

Goplin is passionate about all aspects of corn production, including ethanol, both as a farmer and a consumer. Thirty-seven percent of the corn grown in Wisconsin is used for ethanol production, according to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.  

You have probably noticed several fuel options at the gas pump. The 87 octane is usually an E10, which means the fuel is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. 89 is a higher-octane fuel with 15 percent ethanol. 

Ethanol is a plant-based alcohol that can be blended with gasoline to power internal combustion engines. When added to gasoline, the result is a higher-octane level, which means more power. Newer engines are designed for higher octane and run more efficiently when ethanol is combined with gasoline. This leads to lower emissions as a fuel source.  

“When I look at a gas pump as a consumer, I have choices between E10, E15 and fuel that does not use ethanol at the gas pump. It was somewhere between $0.70 and $0.83 cheaper if I ran ethanol,” says Goplin.

He noted that, like most consumers, he prefers to save money at the gas pump. Ethanol is a win-win because it combines cost savings with a lower carbon footprint and less emissions. 

Nearly 3 million acres of corn are grown in Wisconsin, according to WFBF. Data and research have allowed for higher-yielding corn from one acre. One common misconception about ethanol is that it takes away from the food supply and there is less corn available to feed the growing population. Ethanol removes only one component from corn — starch. Once the starch is removed, what is left is a high-energy, high-protein food source that can be used to feed livestock, poultry and pigs. This byproduct is called distillers grain.  One bushel of corn can produce three gallons of ethanol and 15 pounds of distillers grains. Goplin compares distillers grain to the orange juice concentrate you can buy at the grocery store. It is a highly concentrated, nutrient-rich food source for animals.  

Another byproduct of ethanol production is carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide can be collected and used to carbonate beverages such as soda. It can also be used to make dry ice. 

Goplin says renewable energy gives him hope for an energy independent future and thriving rural communities. He takes pride and responsibility in producing energy on his own ground in Trempealeau County.