Poet breaks ground on cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa

Source: DAVID SHAFFER • Star Tribune  • Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An Iowa ethanol venture has begun building its first commercial-sized plant to make fuel from corn, minus the kernels.

Poet and its new Dutch partner, Royal DSM, held a groundbreaking Tuesday in Emmetsburg, Iowa, for a $250 million cellulosic ethanol plant expected to be completed next year. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and other officials were on hand.

“We are doing … the 21st-century version of living off the land,” said Stephan Tanda, a member of the Royal DSM Managing Board.

Almost all U.S. ethanol is made from corn kernels. To supply the cellulosic ethanol plant, corn farmers in north-central Iowa will make a second harvest of corncobs, leaves and stalks left on fields after the kernel-gathering combines have passed.

Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels is building a 25-million-gallon-a-year plant, known as Project Liberty, next to Poet’s corn-ethanol plant in Emmetsburg. Poet, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., has 27 corn-ethanol plants, including four in Minnesota.

Royal DSM has enzyme and yeast technology to break down and ferment plant cellulose. Poet developed the process technology. They plan to replicate it at other Poet plants and license the technology to other firms, Poet President Jeff Lautt said on a teleconference.

Once it’s proven at Emmetsburg, Lautt said, “I would expect there will be multiple [plants] built on annual basis.” He said he expects them to be privately financed, possibly including farmer-investors, a common form of ownership at corn-ethanol plants.

The Emmetsburg plant could be the nation’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, though a project by Abengoa Bioenergy is underway in Kansas. DuPont Industrial Biosciences says it will break ground for a plant later this year in Nevada, Iowa.

While the Iowa and Kansas plants will be fed by corn residue, another company, Mascoma Corp., plans to turn wood chips into ethanol at a commercial-scale plant planned in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.