EYOTA — High-level officials from Middle Eastern and African countries were in Minnesota last week to learn more about the ethanol production process.

The state tour, which kicked off in Eyota at the Kwik Trip fuel blending site on Wednesday, was hosted by the U.S. Grains Council, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. 

The visitors included officials from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Madagascar -- nations that are exploring ways to expand ethanol use to address environmental and fuel quality concerns.

The Minnesota trip came after a Global Ethanol Summit held in Washington, D.C., where 60 countries were represented and 400 officials participated in business-to-business meetings and educational presentations on ethanol use.

Ethanol has been the fastest-growing U.S. agricultural export in the last 10 years, according to the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service. Last year, U.S. ethanol exports totaled 1.7 billion gallons valued at $2.7 billion

According to the corn growers group, the two-day tour showcased Minnesota’s ethanol industry and its production process all the way from farms to plants and pumps.

"They can come to Minnesota and find out the process for how we blend ethanol with gasoline," said Mitch Coulter, biofuels director for MCGA. "They get the opportunity to see a farmer from feedstock all the way through to a refinery, and then fuel distribution."

Coulter said the stop in Eyota at the Kwik Trip site was a good chance for the group to see distribution on a large scale.

Kwik Trip began selling E15 (otherwise known as Unleaded 88) in February 2017, according to its website, and now offers E15 at more than 400 locations throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. As of August, Kwik Trip has sold more than 250 million gallons of E15.

Coulter said the main driver for the increase in exports over the last decade is climate change. He said all the countries taking part in the educational opportunities in the U.S. this week are part of the The Paris Agreement, and need to meet the ambitious goals of the accord. 

"One of the quickest and easiest ways for these countries to reach some of the early goals is to blend more ethanol into their fuel supply," said Coulter. "That's why there's so much interest around ethanol right now." 

E5, E10 and E20 blends are available in some of the countries in the region, said Ramy Taieb, regional director of the Middle East and Africa for the U.S. Grains Council, but they are looking to the U.S. to nail down a more large-scale approach for ethanol.

"This is a very good opportunity for us, to have this experience in the U.S.," said Mohammed Aldabbas, senior adviser for the Arab Renewable Energy Commission in Jordan. "And to seek opportunities for investments in Jordan, and amend our policies to enhance our biodiesel and ethanol for the sake of environmental preservation."