Educating the Next Generation of Drivers About Ethanol

April 2nd, 2018

As an executive for Siouxland Ethanol, I’m used to speaking at board meetings, local community events, and conferences, sharing news and information about our biorefinery in Jackson, Neb., as well as an overview of the U.S. ethanol industry. But recently, I had one of the most rewarding experiences—speaking to a local fifth-grade classroom.

Using the Renewable Fuels Association’s “Ethanol in the Classroom” curriculum as a guide, the students at Harney Elementary in South Sioux City Community Schools sat with rapt attention as I outlined how ethanol is produced, its environmental and economic impacts, and the overall use of the renewable fuel.

The ethanol curriculum is an incredibly useful tool. It’s broken down into three levels: Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, and Grades 9-12. After selecting the appropriate level, students choose a vehicle that runs on ethanol to navigate through the program. These students loved selecting the vehicles (the choices are a sports car, a motorcycle, a small car, or a pick up truck), and tracking the progress along the way. At the end of each stop, they completed activities to test how much they learned and then earned badges.

The students at Harney Elementary really enjoyed themselves and I felt really understood ethanol’s numerous benefits to our country and the connection that the fuel has to their hometown, providing local jobs and helping to boost the economy.

There were lots of great questions from the students, including how ethanol is transported, what it’s like to work at an ethanol plant, and what are the negatives about ethanol. On the latter question, I told them you can’t drink the fuel because it would make you sick! (Although, the same could be said for drinking too much undenatured ethanol too). Overall, I felt incredibly proud to represent Siouxland Ethanol, showing the next generation how vitally important ethanol and renewable fuels are to our nation.

Two weeks after my classroom visit, I returned the favor by hosting the students for a tour at Siouxland Ethanol. I was surprised at how much the students remembered, including that ethanol is made primarily from corn and that the fuel is transported via railcars to the West Coast. After the tour, I took the students to a local gasoline retailer, Jackson Express, to fill up my car with an ethanol blend. The fuel was priced less than conventional gasoline and to show the students how much I was saving, I used the difference to purchase sugar cookies for them. I sent them back to school not only with a tangible understanding of the savings associated with ethanol, but also a nice sugar high!

But seriously, I found this experience incredibly gratifying. It won’t be long before these fifth graders are driving and I want to make sure they understand the numerous economic, environmental and energy security-related benefits of this fuel made in their own community. The Renewable Fuels Association’s “Ethanol in the Classroom” curriculum is a very helpful tool to teach young adults all about renewable fuel and I would highly recommend it to parents, educators, and ethanol proponents around the country.

by Pam Miller, Board Chair and Director of Industry and Investor Relations for Siouxland Ethanol.