Iowa has first gallon of cellulosic ethanol

Source: Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Quad County Corn Processors beat DuPont and Poet to produce the state’s first-ever gallon of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol.

The northwest Iowa company produced a limited amount Monday but plans to quickly scale-up so that it’s producing about 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year.

“We’re running 24/7 now,” said Delayne Johnson, CEO of Quad County Corn Processors in Galva. “It was minimal production today, but it will be thousands of gallons tomorrow and by next week, it will be full speed.”

Two other advanced biofuel projects are expected to be completed this year: DuPont Danisco is building a $225 million cellulosic ethanol plant next door to Lincolnway Energy near Nevada. And Poet-DSM is building a $250 million cellulosic plant in the northwest Iowa town of Emmetsburg, also next door to an existing plant.

DuPont and Poet both plan to use corncobs and husks collected from area farmers’ fields to make cellulosic ethanol. Quad County Corn Processors converts the kernels’ corn fiber into cellulosic ethanol, in addition to traditional corn ethanol.

Quad County’s cellulosic technology is “bolted on” to its existing ethanol plant, with a capacity to produce 35 million gallons of conventional ethanol a year. The farmer-owned company invested $9 million building the added capacity.

Johnson said the project enables the company to produce 6 percent more ethanol, 300 percent more corn oil, and livestock feed with 40 percent more protein.

“We get more out of the same kernel of corn that we already purchase and process,” Johnson said. “It’s a three-way win.”

Johnson said the company received nearly $6 million in financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Power Fund for the project.

Johnson said the nation has the potential to produce a billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually by adding its technology to the existing ethanol plants. Quad County reached an agreement with Syngenta to market its technology to other plants.

National leaders have begun to question whether cellulosic production — seen as more environmentally friendly than conventional ethanol — would ever materialize. It’s taken years longer than expected to develop the process to make commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed reducing the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended into the fuel supply that powers American vehicles. The EPA says it’s bending to market realities: The mandates were too aggressive and hard to reach, given that autos have become more fuel-efficient.

“While the EPA continues to debate the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014 and beyond, renewable fuels producers like Quad County Corn Processors remain committed to pioneering new technologies that increase plant productivity and accomplish the goals set forth by the RFS,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

“With other cellulosic ethanol projects nearing completion, Iowa is poised to lead the way in advanced ethanol production,” he said.

Iowa is the nation’s leader in renewable fuels production. It has 42 ethanol refineries capable of producing more than 3.8 billion gallons annually and 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce nearly 315 million gallons annually.

Iowa cellulosic ethanol plants

DuPont Nevada

The $225 million DuPont cellulosic ethanol plant is under construction next door to Lincolnway Energy, west of Nevada. The plant plans to make 30 million gallons of ethanol annually from corncobs, husks and stalks, known as stover. DuPont will contract with more than 500 local farmers to gather, store and deliver more than 375,000 tons of stover annually. Farmers within a 30-mile radius will provide stover from about 190,000 acres. The project, expected to come online in the fourth quarter, will create about 60 jobs.

Poet-DSM’s Project Liberty, Emmetsburg

The $250 million plant is under construction near Emmetsburg, with plans to produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. Poet-DSM will contract with 400 to 500 local farmers to harvest about 285,000 tons of stover a year. The company expects to create 50 permanent jobs. The stover will be collected from about a 45-mile radius around the new plant and harvested from 285,000 acres. The new plant is next to an existing 55 million-gallon corn ethanol plant. Poet is a South Dakota maker of ethanol, and DSM Royal is a Dutch maker of enzymes.

Quad County Corn Processors

Quad County built a $9 million cellulosic ethanol facility next to its existing 35 million-gallon corn-based ethanol plant near Galva in western Iowa. The new plant will turn corn kernel fiber into 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, improve the protein in its dried distillers grain by 40 percent, and boost corn oil extraction by 300 percent. The project is expected to create five full-time jobs. The company is producing cellulosic ethanol now.