Poet to build pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol facility

By Erin Voegele
Web exclusive posted August 14, 2008 at 2:53 p.m. CST

Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Poet LLC announced August 13 that construction on a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol production facility in Scotland, S.D., will be completed by the end of the year. The $4 million facility will be adjacent to Poet's corn ethanol pilot-scale facility and a 9 MMgy ethanol facility. The new facility, which will produce 20,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, will allow Poet to make final improvements in technology before construction begins next year on Project Liberty, the company's commercial cellulosic production facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

"I can stand here confidently before you today and say that it is no longer if we are able to produce cellulosic ethanol, but when," said Jeff Broin, Poet's chief executive officer.

The process Poet has developed uses corn cobs and corn fiber to produce ethanol. According to Broin, research has determined that corn cobs are a waste product that provides little value to soil, and in fact, require nitrogen to be broken down. Additionally, research has shown that the cobs do little to prevent soil erosion. It's estimated that 80 gallons of ethanol can be produced from a ton of corn cobs and corn fiber. Broin estimates that the per ton cost of cobs will run between $30 and $60. "America's corn belt has enough cobs to produce 5 billion gallons of ethanol per year," Broin said. "That's 5 billion gallons of fuel that comes from an agricultural waste rather than imported from OPEC."

For the past eight years, Poet has been working to develop cellulosic ethanol technology and has significantly expanded their research and development efforts. In recent months, Poet scientists have been able to achieve significant ethanol percentages in fermentation and improve the yield of ethanol from biomass. In addition, the company is working with farmers and equipment manufacturers to develop equipment that will collect both corn grain and cobs without slowing the harvest process. Last year, working in conjunction with the agricultural equipment manufacturers, the company was able to harvest 4,000 acres of corn grain and cobs from a farmer's field in southeastern South Dakota.

Project Liberty, which will transform a 50 MMgy grain-to-ethanol plant into an integrated corn-to-ethanol and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery, is a project jointly funded by Poet and the U.S. DOE. The completed facility will produce 125 million gallons per year, with 25 million gallons being produced from corn fiber and cobs. Poet is in the first phase of the agreement with the U.S. DOE, which governs all aspects of the project leading up to construction. Construction on Project Liberty is expected to start in 2009, with operations beginning in 2011.