2nd Iowa plant makes cellulosic ethanol reality

Source: Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014

GALVA, Ia. — The same kernel of corn that Iowa producers use to make ethanol also can be the source for the industry’s next generation of renewable fuel, say leaders at Quad County Corn Processors.

The northwest Iowa ethanol plant is using corn fiber to produce cellulosic ethanol, a more environmentally friendly fuel that industry leaders have worked years to develop.

Using fiber from the same corn kernels it already uses to create conventional ethanol will enable Quad County Corn Processors to produce 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, CEO Delayne Johnson told about 200 visitors Tuesday at the opening of the company’s $9 million cellulosic expansion project.

The plant already produces 35 million gallons of conventional corn ethanol.

Quad County became the first Iowa plant to produce a gallon of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol in June. It expects to market the cellulosic technology to existing ethanol plants across the country.

Officials on Tuesday said Iowa is leading the nation in cellulosic ethanol development.

Last week, Poet-DSM celebrated the opening of its $275 million facility in Emmetsburg, a plant that uses corn cobs, husks and crop residue to make cellulosic ethanol. DuPont Danisco has a cellulosic ethanol plant under construction in Nevada. That $225 million facility, also using corn residue, is expected to be completed later this year.

Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington, D.C., said ethanol critics have called cellulosic ethanol a “phantom fuel” that would “never happen” — or “wishful thinking.”

“It’s not a wish. It’s not a phantom fuel. … You folks are making it happen,” Dinneen said. “It’s going to drive our country forward.”

Using cellulosic ethanol in vehicles produces fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline — 95 percent less, officials say.

Quad County Corn Processors, Poet-DSM and other companies sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday encouraging him to back off a proposal to scale back the federal mandate that requires renewable fuel to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.

The proposal especially hurts development of cellulosic ethanol. The country already has enough production capacity to fill the existing federal mandate. Unless it’s increased, there’s little incentive to continue to invest in an advanced fuel such as cellulosic ethanol, the companies said.

“The question at hand is whether the return on investment will flow predominantly to the United States, or whether countries like China and Brazil will reap the economic and environmental rewards of technologies pioneered in America,” the companies said.

Jan Koninckx, global business director for biorefineries at DuPont, which provides the enzymes used at the Quad County plant, said the country has a social responsibility to develop renewable fuels that have less environmental impact.

“We can’t just keep drilling,” he said. “We’re delivering a clean fuel here, a renewable fuel that the old industry can’t even think about. It’s sustainable. It’s a responsibility this generation has for the next generation.”