New technology offers corn ethanol producers opportunity to dip into advanced fuels

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013

Iowa’s smallest ethanol plant this week broke ground on what some biofuels supporters are calling the next big thing in advanced fuels.

The Quad County Corn Processors plant will install technology that will allow it to convert corn kernel fibers left over from the harvesting and processing of corn into advanced biofuels. It will allow the plant to boost its 35-million-gallon annual capacity by about 6 percent.

“It’s exciting to see one of the smaller ethanol plants in Iowa adding some forward-looking technology,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw. “This new bolt-on process will greatly improve many efficiencies at this plant, ultimately reducing the amount of energy used to produce a gallon of ethanol.”

The technology is significant in that it gives conventional corn ethanol producers that have taken heat in recent months over food prices a chance to participate in federal advanced biofuel targets. In May, U.S. EPA opened the door to the technology by proposing to allow refiners to use corn kernel fiber ethanol to qualify for cellulosic biofuel credit under the renewable fuel standard (E&ENews PM, May 21).

The agency proposed adding the fiber to its definition of crop residues, putting it on the same level as corn stover, wheat straw, rice straw and bagasse, a leftover from sugar cane production. All can be used to produce cellulosic biofuels, a subset of advanced biofuels that must achieve at least a 60 percent greenhouse gas reduction compared to petroleum-based fuel.

Quad County in Galva, Iowa, expects to not only boost its capacity but also increase its dried distillers grains, a co-product of ethanol production that is used by the livestock industry as animal feed. The “Adding Cellulosic Ethanol” technology will increase the protein content of its dried distillers grains by about 40 percent, said Quad County General Manager Delayne Johnson.

“The greatest benefactors will be the Galva community, our shareholders, the ethanol industry and the consumer,” Johnson said. “Investing $8.5 million in our new process will add several jobs here at the plant, allow us to produce more ethanol from the same amount of corn, help us contribute to the nation’s supply of cellulosic ethanol and will continue to lower prices at the pump for consumers.”

Quad County expects to complete construction in April 2014.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, applauded the announcement. RFA last month submitted comments in support of EPA’s proposed rule.

“The future is now and the present is future,” Dinneen said. “Cellulosic production will soon begin side by side with conventional ethanol.”