First North American commercial cellulosic ethanol plant opens

New plant will produce ethanol at a rate of 20 million gallons per year.

POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture of Royal DSM and POET LLC, recently proved its revolutionary technology that converts agricultural residue into renewable fuel at the Grand Opening of its first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

The plant, named “Project LIBERTY,” was formally opened Sept. 3 in the presence of His Majesty Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Under Secretary Michael Knotek of the Department of Energy, Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa, other dignitaries and thousands of guests.

Project LIBERTY converts baled corn cobs, leaves, husk and stalk into renewable fuel. The plant has now officially started operations, processing its first batch of biomass into cellulosic ethanol. At full capacity, it will convert 770 tons of biomass per day to produce ethanol at a rate of 20 million gallons per year, later ramping up to 25 million gallons per year.

“Some have called cellulosic ethanol a ‘fantasy fuel,’ but today it becomes a reality,” said Jeff Broin, POET Founder and Executive Chairman. “With access now to new sources for energy, Project LIBERTY can be the first step in transforming our economy, our environment and our national security.”

The concept was envisioned by the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition when they worked with Congress and President George W. Bush to launch an ambitious federal research program to deliver cost-effective advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol. The Coalition helped persuade Congress to pass the first Renewable Fuels Standard over a decade ago, accelerating the move away from imported oil toward domestically produced biofuels.

“The cellulosic ethanol industry has arrived and is an important avenue for adding value to agricultural products and spurring economic and family income growth in rural America,” said Governor Branstad, vice chairman of the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, calling the facility “inspiring”

“This plant demonstrates the innovative spirit and technological skill needed to meet the nation’s energy challenge,” Branstad added.  “It’s an important milestone on the nation’s road to clean fuels, diversifying our nation’s energy portfolio, rural economic growth, giving consumers choices at the fuel pump.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack remarked that the grand opening “demonstrates that America is ready for advanced renewable energy production.”

“USDA invested to help bring this facility online because it is boosting America's energy independence, cutting carbon pollution, and holds great promise for our domestic agriculture and energy industries.”

In addition to creating local jobs and opportunities for farmers, Vilsack also said the plant will continue to spur local investment and open the door for new technology and job growth across rural America.

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Another plant also using corn stover residue is expected to open later this year at Nevada, in central Iowa. That $225 million DuPont plant will have the capacity to make 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year.

Other commercial and demonstration scale cellulosic plants that have recently begun production include the Quad County Corn Processors, Galva, Iowa; INEOS Bio, Indian River, Florida; and Abengoa Bioenergy, Hugoton, Kansas.

“Poet-DSM’s plant confirms what has been tested and proved in the Illinois-located National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center. Putting this research into action can lead to the exciting growth of cellulosic plants across the country,” said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition chairman. Other states, including Illinois, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Kansas, will soon have cellulosic plants, and plans are underway for additional plants in more than 20 states.

“Cellulosic ethanol has the ability to address two national issues: our dependence on foreign oil and the viability of our nation’s farms,” Governor Quinn added. “Cellulosic ethanol production can make our agricultural system more resilient and sustainable while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Experts in Illinois and Iowa are hard at work making that happen, and Poet-DSM is a great step toward achieving that.”

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