Iowa company starts commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014

A small ethanol plant in Iowa yesterday began producing the Midwest’s first commercial-scale gallons of cellulosic ethanol.

Quad County Corn Processors, which operates a 35-million-gallon ethanol plant in western Iowa, achieved the milestone through a “bolt-on” process that converts parts of a corn plant left over from conventional ethanol production into cellulosic ethanol.

The startup of the operation, while small compared to big ethanol plants in the Midwest, is a win for the nascent cellulosic biofuels industry. Producers have struggled with a negative image brought on by the failure of some high-profile projects and difficulty coming close to the yearly targets envisioned by the 2007 renewable fuel standard.

“First is always exciting and being the first cellulosic ethanol producer in Iowa is a very proud moment for us,” Quad County CEO Delayne Johnson said in a statement.

Quad County came into the national spotlight last year after U.S. EPA approved its technology, which uses corn kernel fiber to produce ethanol for credit in the federal biofuel mandate. The approval gives refiners incentive to use the fuel to meet their annual renewable fuel requirements.

Quad County, which received $5.7 million in federal assistance for the project, believes the technology will allow it to increase its capacity by 6 percent. Adding similar technology to all grain ethanol plants in the country would increase the nation’s cellulosic ethanol production by 840 million gallons, Johnson said at a recent press event in Washington, D.C.

Three big ethanol and agriculture companies are also eyeing start dates this year for standalone cellulosic ethanol facilities in the Midwest. Abengoa Bioenergy, POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels and DuPont have each invested millions of dollars in facilities that would convert post-harvest corn debris into cellulosic ethanol.

All the producers have expressed optimism for this year but have warned that EPA’s proposal to scale back ethanol and advanced biofuel targets this year under the renewable fuel standard could take the wind out of their sails (Greenwire, April 30).