The Register’s Editorial: A lot of pressure on that new ethanol plant in Emmetsburg

Source: By the Register’s Editorial Board, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, September 8, 2014

It’s hard to exaggerate how big a deal was made of the Poet-DSM ethanol plant opening this week in Emmetsburg. You could barely wave a corn stalk in Emmetsburg without hitting a governor, a lieutenant governor, a Cabinet member or even the king of the Netherlands.

Whatever the scientific and economic implications of the new plant, Poet deserves credit for knowing how to pull out all the stops for a major grand opening ceremony.

This is not an ordinary ethanol plant. It makes ethanol from cellulose, or “stover,” which is the rest of the corn plant after the corn kernels have been removed. This answers the criticism that people are denied food when corn is converted to fuel for automobiles. And it may quiet critics who worry about the environmental damage from growing corn since the stover will come from corn plants that also produce feed for livestock, fructose and other products.

The arrival of a commercial plant that creates ethanol from cellulose has long been anticipated. It’s not clear that it will change the debate over ethanol, or the economics of the industry that is dependent of federal fuel standards and oil prices. But it is clearly an important step in bringing science out of the laboratory and into the marketplace.

The test in Emmetsburg will tell us a lot about whether this is the future of renewable fuels as a serious alternative to fossil fuels that has a net benefit to the environment and the fate of the Earth.