An Honored Visitor

USDA’s Canales visits ICM’s St. Joseph, Mo., cellulosic ethanol project
By Holly Jessen | April 25, 2011

As part of an effort to highlight USDA programs that promote greater use of biofuels, USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Judith Canales stopped by to check out the progress on the ICM Inc. cellulosic ethanol pilot and demonstration plant under construction in St. Joseph, Mo. The April 13 visit kicked off a series of workshops and events on renewable energy that will be held during the next two months.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at the grand opening of the BioProcess Algae Phase II Grower Harvester TM Bioreactor. The algae project is located at the 65 MMgy Green Plains Renewable Energy ethanol plant in Shenandoah, Iowa.

USDA is showcasing projects while promoting its blender pump program. USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program funding is available to help install E85 and blender pumps, with a goal of 10,000 blender pumps added during the next five years. “Grants are available to provide fuel station owners with incentives to install flexible fuel pumps that offer Americans more renewable energy options,” Canales says. “I want to make certain that everyone is aware of the variety of assistance USDA Rural Development provides to help businesses create jobs and become more energy efficient.”

USDA’s visit in St. Joseph was successful for both sides, says Greg Krissek, ICM's director of government affairs. “It was certainly an opportunity for Administrator Canales and the USDA rural development team to spread the word about their program and the same time it was gracious of them to be interested in learning a little bit about our pilot plant,” he says.

For the overall success of the ethanol industry, progress must be made at both ends of the production and use spectrum, Krissek says. Installing E85 and blender pumps helps the industry move past the E10 regulatory cap on blending, in order to meet the growing requirements of the renewable fuel standard. The USDA’s project to provide money for blender pump installation is a step in the right direction to giving the ethanol industry access to the marketplace. That, in turn, will help foster further development of cellulosic ethanol plants. “Commercial investment and lending for facilities is only going to happen if those investors and lenders see a growing marketplace and growing use of the product,” he says.

He adds that it’s important that both first- and second-generation ethanol are successful—not just cellulosic ethanol. “We’ve completed the first span of the bridge with the starch ethanol facilities that are across the country. We’re looking at the next span of the bridge which is the cellulosic ethanol,” he says. “You’re not going to get on the second span and throw the first span away.”

The U.S. DOE awarded ICM $25 million for construction and operation of the 254,000 gallon a year pilot plant. The company is working to modify its existing dry fractionation corn-to-ethanol pilot plant located at LifeLine Foods LLC for ethanol production using four feedstocks: corn fiber, switchgrass, energy sorghum and corn stover. “Construction should be completed by June first,” he says. “The second half of this year we’ll begin operations.”

ICM is partnering with LifeLine Foods on this project, which is a farmer-owned cooperative of more than 700 members. The company will contract with those farmers for its supply of feedstock within a 25-mile radius, or if necessary, a 50-mile radius. This growing season ICM only has a few contracts for feedstock and will conduct its first tests on mostly corn fiber from the LifeLine plant. “There’s a small (feedtstock) program going on this year, it will start to ramp up next year,” he says.

—Holly Jessen