Iowa cellulosic plant on track for 2014 opening

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013

One of the nation’s first next-generation biofuel plants is on track to begin producing fuel early next year.

Executives from POET-DSM — a joint venture between ethanol giant POET LLC and Dutch company Royal DSM NV — said yesterday that construction of the Emmetsburg, Iowa, plant has stayed on schedule despite wet weather. The facility is expected to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year using agricultural residues and eventually ramp up to 25 million gallons

“Despite the wet spring, we have been able to continue to stay on schedule with construction,” Wade Robey, a POET-DSM board member, said yesterday. “It’s been exciting to see the tanks and buildings rise as the external structure of the plant takes shape. Equipment is coming in, and we’re now able to start getting into the process side of things.”

The POET-DSM facility is one of a handful of next-generation biofuel plants, or facilities that won’t use corn as a feedstock, scheduled to come online within the next couple of years. Last year, the first two commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plants in the nation, operated by INEOS Bio. and Kior Inc., were completed (Greenwire, Jan. 15).

The POET facility, known as Project LIBERTY, will use bales of corncobs, leaves, husks and some stalks to produce its cellulosic ethanol through enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation. Local farmers are expected to deliver 120,000 tons of bales this fall to help the facility begin production next year.

Construction on the plant began last March (E&ENews PM, March 13). So far, the biomass receiving and grinding building is almost complete, POET-DSM officials said. The foundations for the fermentation and saccharification tanks are finished.

While it completes construction, POET-DSM General Manager for Licensing Steve Hartig said that the company is searching for locations to build a next round of commercial cellulosic ethanol plants.

Hartig and Robey spoke yesterday at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, an event taking place this week in St. Louis that features most of the big names in ethanol and advanced biofuels.

As the event took place, the Agriculture Department gave advanced biofuels a boost, announcing late yesterday that it would provide up to $98.6 million to support the production of next-generation fuels made from crop residue; animal, food and yard waste; vegetable oils; and animal fat.

The funding, made available through the 2008 farm bill’s Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, will go toward both helping offset the production costs of new plants and expanding ones that already exist. Since 2009, USDA has used the program to assist 275 producers in 44 states.