Poet’s Emmetsburg plant could be at full output in 2016

Source: By Christopher Doering, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2016

WASHINGTON — A top official with ethanol producer Poet said the company’s goal is to have its cellulosic facility in Emmetsburg at full production by the end of this year.

Jeff Lautt, Poet’s president and chief operating officer, said the cellulosic ethanol plant, which opened in September 2014, has been “working through the bugs” to reach its initial target of producing 20 million gallons annually. The $275 million facility uses corncobs, leaves and husks to produce ethanol.

“That’s a lofty goal but one that we don’t think is out of reach. It is certainly one that is going to test the team and make sure we continue on this (improving) trend that we are on to get there,” Lautt said.

The plant began shipping its first tank carsof cellulosic ethanol to the market in December.

Poet, one of the nation’s largest ethanol producers, and Royal DSM of the Netherlands partnered on the project. They needed more than a decade to develop the technology used in the plant and $107 million in state and federal grants.

Lautt said the company has had “preliminary discussions” in the U.S. and overseas to license its technology. Poet also said it has identified some of its 27 corn ethanol plants that would be ideal locales for cellulosic plants. In both cases he declined to provide additional details.

“We have a pretty good idea where those first cellulosic plants would probably go,” he said of Poet’s own existing ethanol plants. “The pipeline of opportunities is robust.”

Lautt said the company will be better positioned to capitalize on other opportunities once its Emmetsburg plant is fully operational. But he said much of the growth, for Poet and other companies, will depend on support from the Renewable Fuel Standard in Congress and the White House.

The mandate, a 2007 law that requires an increasing amount of alternative fuels be blended into gasoline, has been attacked by some lawmakers outside the Corn Belt and trade groups, including the oil industry. They want the mandate overhauled or ended.

The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring refiners to blend 18.11 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2016, most of it from corn — well below the 22.25 billion target set by Congress in 2007. Cellulosic for this year was put at 230 million gallons. That also is below the 4.25 billion level Congress initially set, because cellulosic production has taken longer to materialize on a commercial scale than many expected.

But there are signs the industry is starting to live up to its early promise. In addition to the Poet-DSM plant, DuPont opened a cellulosic facility last fall in Nevada, Iowa. And Quad County Corn Processors began making cellulosic ethanol, in addition to corn-ethanol, at its plant near Galva.

Lautt said the industry has received a “bit of a mixed message” from the EPA.

“They want to appear to (be committed), but they haven’t stayed committed to the statutes that were laid out,” he said. “It makes companies like us a little bit uneasy as to what is going to be the long-term commitment, and ultimately that is going to determine if the technology gets fully exploited here in the U.S. and gets exploited abroad.”