Corn grower says ethanol is fueling the future of energy

Rachel Gerbitz

Shane Goplin is a grain and forage farmer from Trempealeau County in West Central Wisconsin, otherwise known as the Driftless Area.

Goplin farms on more slopes than average in the Driftless Area. He practices no-till or minimum-till – using the least amount of tillage that he can. Goplin wants to preserve the soil as best as he can, recognizing that we cannot make any more soil, so we need to keep it in place. 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. 

Serving on the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association Board of Directors, Shane Goplin is passionate about all aspects of corn production – including ethanol, both as a farmer and a consumer.

Goplin shared that no matter where we farm throughout the world, we all have our own set of challenges. 

“When we can keep our soil healthy, we can keep our soil happy,” shared Goplin. 

Serving 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. 

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, which is better for the environment. 

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

Goplin shared that he recently took his daughter to a volleyball tournament in the Twin Cities area.

“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,” said Goplin. 

Goplin noted that, much 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 three million acres of corn are grown in Wisconsin. Like other industries, corn growers always want to be better and more efficient. 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. 

Ethanol is evolving and becoming more unique or efficient as technology advances and we learn more about production. 

Harvesting our own energy helps our bottom line and our future’s bottom line. 

Goplin shared that 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.  

Gerbitz is Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation's Director of Sustainability Communications and Partnerships