The first ever gallons of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol produced in Iowa flowed from Quad County Corn Processor's distillation unit on July 1. This marked the commissioning of the farmer-owned ethanol plant's Adding Cellulosic Ethanol or ACE project, a new "bolt-on" process that adds the capability to convert the kernel's corn fiber into cellulosic ethanol, in addition to traditional corn starch ethanol.
"Through hard work and forward-thinking innovation, we're excited to be the first cellulosic ethanol producers in Iowa," says Quad County Corn Processors CEO Delayne Johnson. "Our Adding Cellulosic Ethanol or ACE project will not only increase our plant's production capacity by 6%, but it will also continue to boost energy security and provide consumers with more low-cost, cleaner-burning ethanol without adding any additional corn to the production process."
Johnson also says the new technology will improve the plant's distillers grains (DDGs) co-product. "As a result of the new process, the DDGs will be much more similar to a corn gluten meal. It will increase the protein content of the livestock feed by about 40%, and we also expect to see a boost in corn oil extraction by about 300%," he says.
Iowa is poised to lead the way in advanced ethanol production
"We congratulate Quad County Corn Processors on its innovative process that improves plant efficiency, and for becoming the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol producer in Iowa," says Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. "While EPA continues to debate the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014 and beyond, renewable fuels producers like Quad County Corn Processors remain committed to pioneering new technologies that increase plant productivity and accomplish the goals set forth by the RFS. With other cellulosic ethanol projects nearing completion, Iowa is poised to lead the way in advanced ethanol production."
Quad County Corn Processors is a 35 million gallon per year capacity corn ethanol production facility at Galva in northwest Iowa. QCCP's Adding Cellulosic Ethanol or ACE process uses corn kernel fiber to produce an additional 2 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol.
Iowa is the nation's leader in renewable fuels production. Iowa has 42 ethanol refineries capable of producing more than 3.8 billion gallons annually, including 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol production and two cellulosic ethanol facilities currently under construction. In addition, Iowa has 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce nearly 315 million gallons annually. For more information, visit the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association website.
Two other Iowa producers are also into cellulosic
Quad County Corn Processors beat DuPont and Poet, the big guys, to produce the state's first-ever gallon of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol. The northwest Iowa farmer-owned ethanol plant produced a limited amount on July 1 but is quickly scaling up to an eventual production of about 2 million gallons per year. "We're running 24/7 now," says Johnson.
Two other advanced biofuel projects are expected to be completed this year: DuPont Danisco is building a $225 million cellulosic ethanol plant next door to Lincolnway Energy near Nevada in central Iowa. Poet-DSM is finishing construction on a $250 million cellulosic plant in the northwest Iowa town of Emmetsburg, also next door to an existing corn ethanol plant. DuPont and Poet both will use cobs and husks collected from area farmers' fields to make cellulosic ethanol. Quad County converts the kernels' corn fiber into cellulosic ethanol, in addition to making traditional corn ethanol.
Quad County's cellulosic technology is "bolted on" to its existing plant, with a capacity to produce 35 million gallons of conventional ethanol a year. The farmer-owned company invested $9 million in building the added cellulosic capacity.
Getting more out of the same kernel of corn
Johnson says the ACE process enables Quad County to produce 6% more ethanol, 300% more corn oil, and livestock feed with 40% more protein. "We get more out of the same kernel of corn that we already purchase and process," he explains. "It's a three-way win."
Quad County received about $6 million in financing from USDA and the Iowa Power Fund for the project. Johnson says the nation has the potential to produce a billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually by adding its technology to existing ethanol plants. Quad County has an agreement with Syngenta to market the ACE technology to other ethanol plants.
Some people have begun to question whether cellulosic ethanol production, which is viewed as more environmentally friendly than making ethanol from grain, will ever materialize on a large scale. It's taken a number of years longer than expected to develop the process to make commercial scale cellulosic ethanol. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed reducing the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended (by federal law) into the U.S. motor fuel supply.
EPA proposes reducing RFS, ethanol producers remain committed
EPA says it is proposing to reduce the Renewable Fuel Standard because of market realities. That is, the RFS mandates were set too high originally and are now hard to reach, because automobiles have become more fuel-efficient in recent years.
"While the EPA continues to debate the RFS, renewable fuel producers remain committed to developing new technologies that increase their productivity and accomplish the goals of the RFS," emphasizes Shaw. "Indeed, Iowa is ready to lead the way in advanced ethanol production."
How the three Iowa cellulosic ethanol plants compare
* Poet-DSM Project Liberty at Emmetsburg: The $250 million plant is about finished with construction and plans to produce 25 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol. Poet-DSM will contract with 400 to 500 local farmers to harvest approximately 285,000 tons of corn stover a year. The company will create 50 permanent jobs. The stover will be collected from about a 45 mile radius around the new plant and harvested from 285,000 acres. The new plant sits next to the existing 55 million gallon per year corn ethanol plant. Poet is a South Dakota-based manufacturer of ethanol, and DSM Royal is a Dutch maker of enzymes.
* DuPont Danisco at Nevada: This $225 million cellulosic ethanol plant is under construction next to Lincolnway Energy, just west of Nevada in central Iowa. DuPont plans to make 30 million gallons of ethanol annually from corncobs, husks and stalks. DuPont plans to contract with more than 500 local farmers to gather, store and deliver more than 375,000 tons of stover per year. Farmers in a 30 mile radius will sell the stover to the plant from about 190,000 acres. The new plant is expected to create 60 jobs and begin operating in the fourth quarter of 2014.
* Quad County Corn Processors: This farmer-owned plant has built a $9 million cellulosic ethanol facility next to its 35 million gallon per year corn grain ethanol plant near Galva in northwest Iowa. The new plant will turn the fiber from corn kernels into 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, improve the protein content in its dried distillers grains livestock feed by 40% and improve corn oil extraction by 300%. The project is expected to created 5 full-time jobs. Quad County began producing cellulosic ethanol on July 1.