By TIMOTHY EGGERT
Illinois’ biofuel industry added 307 jobs in 2021, a 4.6% increase from the previous year, according to recently released federal data.
The 2022 United States Energy and Employment Report (USEER), compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), found similar growth in the biofuels industry at the national level, which in 2021 added 4,332 jobs.
And that national growth is expected to continue through 2022, with jobs related to renewable diesel fuels anticipated to increase by 6.6%, biodiesel by 5.5% and corn ethanol by 4.5%, the report said.
“Amidst the unique challenges of a nation coming out of a global pandemic, America’s energy sector stands out with considerable job growth across nearly all industries,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
“DOE’s USEER report shows that jobs critical to our clean energy transition are on the rise and poised for continued expansion thanks to the historic investments from the president’s bipartisan infrastructure law,” Granholm said.
Illinois’ boost in total biofuel jobs over the past year — from 6,712 in 2020 to 7,019 in 2021 — mostly stemmed from a rise in employment (130 jobs added) related to “other biofuels,” which DOE classifies as “other fuel derived directly from living matter.”
Illinois-based positions in corn ethanol (100 jobs added); other ethanol, which includes biodiesel, (41 jobs added); and woody biomass (36 jobs added) also increased from 2020 levels.
And within the state’s overall fuels sector, the agriculture and forestry industry accounted for 3,177 jobs in 2021, a 12% decrease from 2020, the report said.
The increased 2021 employment figures across the state’s biofuel industry, however, largely reflect an ongoing recovery from disruptions and shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues.
They also serve as a precursor to facilities expanding their production capacity via millions in federal spending, the implementation of year-round E15 and a 20.63-billion-gallon blending mandate for 2022 under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Illinois in 2021 had the third-largest annual ethanol production capacity (1.8 billion gallons) and the fourth-largest annual biodiesel fuel production capacity (168 million gallons) in the country.
The boost in national-level biofuel jobs over the past year — from 103,254 in 2020 to 107,586 in 2021 — was buoyed by a 1,456-job increase in woody biomass production.
Positions in corn ethanol (1,086 jobs added); other biofuels (910 jobs added) and other ethanol (880 jobs added) further saw growth nationally.
The largest number of corn ethanol fuel jobs (15,818) were in the ag industry, up from 15,419 workers in 2020 and 15,589 workers in 2019, the report said. But despite that growth, overall corn ethanol jobs still haven’t returned to 2019 levels.
“Corn ethanol employed 34,592 workers in 2021, up 1,086 from the 33,506 employed in 2020 (3.2%),” the report said. “It did, however, employ 34,866 workers in 2019, putting the technology’s employment level 275 jobs short of its pre-COVID recession level.”
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.