Agriculture of America Podcast Features EcoEngineers’ Mark Heckman

 

Ethanol Services Director Talks Carbon Intensity for Farmers, How Ethanol Markets Can Benefit

 

 

Check out this recent interview conducted by Agriculture of America‘s Mike Pearson. He talks to EcoEngineers’ Mark Heckman about the growing importance of agriculture and farming practices in the Clean Energy Economy.

Announcer (00:08):

Keeping America’s farmers and ranchers informed on AOA. Now back to Mike Pearson.

Mike Pearson (00:15):

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. AOA marches on here at the ACE Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. Talking ethanol and today we’ve been talking a lot, really about carbon intensity and why the focus has turned to that here in the ethanol industry. Well, joining me next is Mark Heckman. He is with EcoEngineers, works throughout the ethanol supply chain on those thorny issues, helping manage those regulatory concerns that exist out there. Mark, thanks for joining us today.

Mark Heckman (00:40):

Thanks for having us. It’s a pleasure.

Mike Pearson (00:41):

Before we get into it, let’s talk a little bit about EcoEngineers. What do you guys do?

Mark Heckman (00:46):

We are a team of specialists, engineers, consultants that help people extract more value out of ethanol, biofuels, liquid fuels, and also gases. So anything renewable, we’re touching. We’re also entering the voluntary spaces and insets and offset markets.

Mike Pearson (01:06):

Interesting. Squeezing more value out of these products, that’s the name of the game and that’s where it seems like throughout this day, that carbon intensity conversation has come up because there is added value in marketing that product with a lower carbon intensity. Mark, how do you work with folks on the ground to try and lower carbon intensity?

Mark Heckman (01:25):

It’s all about energy. Carbon is really the focus on energy. And it’s the things that ethanol industry has been focused on. Farmers are focused on that. And so really it’s keeping a listening ear to the industry, what the consumer wants, what the consumer is demanding today is more sustainable products and ethanol is that package complete. And to drive that value all the way to the farm level is a focus of mine. It’s a focus of the industry.

Mark Heckman (01:53):

It seemed a few years ago, the ethanol industry started and their focus was on producing ethanol, but we continue to layer on places for improvement. And those improvement is out there. So the farmer mentality is to continue to give back, to continue to extract more and do less. And so that’s the focus. Our job at Eco is to help people with those solutions, establish the pathways, and verify and validate what they’re doing.

Mike Pearson (02:27):

Because that’s the key, it’s the verification, it’s the validation, and it’s the models. How do you get the numbers to line up with what the numbers need to line up for to capture that premium? Mark that has changed a lot here in two or three years. Do you feel like this carbon sequestration space is still in the maturing phase? Are we in the first, second, third inning here of this game?

Mark Heckman (02:49):

I think we’re in the second inning.

Mike Pearson (02:50):

Okay.

Mark Heckman (02:50):

Second to third inning. It’s a case where the science is there. It’s proven. We’re getting the exposure. We’ve had a lot of people creating the awareness. Now we’ve got to get that awareness down to the grassroots and the ground level to say, why is this a value to me? At the farm level.

Mike Pearson (03:10):

How do we do that? How is it a value to the farmer, Mark?

Mark Heckman (03:14):

Flat out it’s about the carbon intensity. And if there’s practices out here that the farms are incorporating, to have it so that as these farms and as we produce this corn, or as we produce our crops for biofuels, whatever we’re doing, how is it that we can make that step changed? How can we take one step to an improvement? And if we do that, how can we quantify that, qualify it and push it so that, hey, because we’re producing this fuel, it ties to the bottom line and it says the incentive is coming from the sale of the fuel and it drives value into the communities. We’ve got a clean air product, it is low carbon, and it’s doing everything in a liquid fuel through our liquid fuel distribution system.

Mike Pearson (04:04):

As of right now, you mentioned that premium, that really the rebate to the grower for doing this extra work. So far, it seems like it’s mainly coming from the west coast. Over the next couple of years, do you, does EcoEngineers believe we’re going to see more widespread adoption of the kind of low carbon fuel standards like we see in California?

Mark Heckman (04:22):

Yeah. Focus today, the Inflation Reduction Act that’s just come out, there’s all kinds of incentives in there with the focus on CI, no matter what the industry is, how is it that you’re going to lower your carbon intensity? The things we do impact climate. And we can do this in a way that agriculture is that solution. And so we’ve modeled using the GREET model. Argon GREET national model has characteristics in there for farm practices and how those drive that value in a CI level, on our farm if we’re doing something different from another farm, here’s where it is. And the technology that’s available now to aggregate that and to make it so that the ethanol plants can now pull this all together in a very quick fashion, it’s really cool. So that we no longer take the average.

Mike Pearson (05:20):

And that’s fascinating to me. And so is the industry there, I’m not on the inside of the ethanol industry, can we track growers in such a way that we can give premiums out to individual producers?

Mark Heckman (05:30):

There’s a lot of pilot plants, pilot projects that are going on and using all the incredible computing power that’s out here. The ability to pull the self-reporting together and then get the validation and the verification that yep, he did do that. As we climb in our tractors or as farmers climb in their tractors-

Mike Pearson (05:54):

Right, because you farm too, Mark.

Mark Heckman (05:54):

Yep.

Mike Pearson (05:54):

I mean, you’re on both sides of this.

Mark Heckman (05:55):

Yeah. And we’ve got the ability to track what we do. We’ve got the ability to validate it without human intervention that says, hey, yep, the planter went across and they planted this amount. Here’s the amount of nitrogen they use. We have to report that. We’ve got yields, maps, information. All that stuff is pretty well real time. And to get that so that it transfers in a usable format, we’re not too far away. And those steps are pretty simple. So create the incentive, we’re going to do it.

Mike Pearson (06:25):

That is pretty cool. And the fact that we’ve got dollars coming back to growers to make these changes is what makes this huge. You don’t have to believe in climate change or the world ending in 10 years, it’s do you want this money or not? There are options out there, Mark. And that’s pretty exciting.

Mark Heckman (06:39):

Yeah. Today it’s not there, right? I mean, California’s not allowing for the farm practices to drive through. They are accepting the pathways for sequestration. All of the things that for years we’ve pulled this crude oil out of the ground and with that came the carbon, right?

Mike Pearson (06:59):

Yep.

Mark Heckman (06:59):

So now we’ve got that ability to push it back down in the ground.

Mike Pearson (07:03):

And get paid for it. Hopefully down the line.

Mark Heckman (07:06):

And get paid for it.

Mike Pearson (07:06):

Mark Heckman, EcoEngineers, thanks for joining us today.

Mark Heckman (07:09):

Thanks for having us. It’s our pleasure.

Mike Pearson (07:10):

And folks tune in tomorrow. We’ll be back here at the ACE Conference for one more day. We’re going to talk to, Clear Flame Engines. Look at the next generation in ethanol. So much happening here folks. Thanks for tuning in today. We look forward to talking you tomorrow, here again on AOA.

 

Agriculture of America is hosted by veteran farm broadcaster Mike Pearson. Tune in each weekday for a conversation about everything agriculture. AoA is produced by the American Ag Radio Network. We discuss ag policy, trade, markets, ag weather and much more! Agriculture of America is a continuation of the popular Adams on Agriculture program hosted by longtime farm broadcaster Mike Adams, before his retirement in December 2021. Mike Pearson was born and raised in South Central Iowa, where he grew to love agriculture on his family’s hog and cattle farm. After graduating from Simpson College, Mike moved to Grinnell, Iowa where he had the chance to build his own cow herd in addition to working as an agricultural lender. Over the next 10 years, Mike left the world of finance and entered the world of media. He’s previously hosted “Market to Market” on Public Television, the Ag News Daily podcast, and currently, viewers can find him behind the anchor desk on “This Week In Agribusiness” with Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson, which can be found on RFD TV or hundreds of local stations each weekend.

 

Mark Heckman EcoEngineers

Mark Heckman

Mark Heckman is the Ethanol Services Manager and sustainable farm practices expert at EcoEngineers, a consulting and auditing firm that specializes in low-carbon fuels and decarbonization strategies. As a farmer in a family partnership of approximately 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans in West Liberty, Iowa, he is an agricultural leader with a focus on soil health and sustainable farming practices. He is a member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Global Farmer Network. For more information about sustainable farm practices, low-carbon fuels, or EcoEngineers, contact Mark at mheckman@ecoengineers.us.