The largest producer of ethanol in the world, POET LLC, will get $76.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology. The South Dakota-based company owns and operates ethanol plants in Iowa and other states, made the announcement October 7.
A renewable, homegrown energy alternative, cellulosic ethanol is produced from plant materials such as corncobs and switchgrass. It has the potential to cut lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86% relative to gasoline. The Iowa ethanol plant at Emmetsburg will be remodeled beginning in 2009, with help from big federal grant.
In February 2007, POET was selected by DOE for a total award of up to $80 million in federal funding for construction of a commercial cellulosic ethanol production facility. The first phase of the agreement was signed in October 2007 and provided POET with an initial $3.7 million for preliminary design, engineering and feedstock collection.
Plant to be expanded, cellulosic added
The agreement announced in October 2008 provides the remaining $76.3 million for final design, construction, start-up and continuous operation of Project LIBERTY.
Project LIBERTY, the transformation of a 50-million-gallon-per-year grain-to-ethanol plant at Emmetsburg in northwest Iowa into an integrated corn-to-ethanol and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery, is jointly funded by POET and DOE. Once complete, the remodeled facility will produce 125 million gallons of ethanol per year, of which 25 million gallons will be from corn fiber and corncobs.
Construction is set to begin in 2009
By adding cellulosic production to the existing grain ethanol plant, POET will be able to produce 11% more ethanol from a bushel of corn and 27% more from an acre of corn while reducing fossil fuel consumption and water use. Construction is projected to begin in 2009 and production of cellulosic ethanol could come as early as 2011.
"Our company is honored to work with DOE on a project of such importance to our country," says Jeff Broin, CEO of POET. "It is universally accepted that the U.S. can't continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually on imported oil. With more than a billion tons of available biomass in the U.S. and continued increases in crop yields, we can sustainably produce enough ethanol to displace almost all of the gasoline consumed in this country."
Broin adds, "Grain based ethanol has been and will continue to be an important part of our country's energy supply. By pairing the production of cellulosic ethanol with our existing infrastructure of corn-based ethanol, we'll continue to improve corn ethanol and accelerate the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol."
A 20-year-old company, POET designs, builds and manages ethanol plants. The firm currently operates 25 production facilities in the U.S. with one more under construction. POET produces and markets more than 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol and 350 million tons of distillers grains annually. For information, go to www.poet.com.
Cars could burn 20% blend of ethanol
Also last week, Broin released the following statement in response to the U.S. Department of Energy's new report on use of higher ethanol blends in cars:
"This report underscores that increasing the use of ethanol can expand America's energy independence today with no change in car performance or maintenance," says Broin. "This comes as no surprise, since Brazil has been using higher blends of ethanol in U.S.-made autos for years. By increasing the base blend to 20% we could avoid importing an additional 15.5 billion gallons of foreign oil, keeping our dollars here at home. The increase in ethanol production could also create 155,000 to 310,000 new jobs, according to DOE estimates.
"Ethanol is America's best renewable fuel, available and affordable now," he says. "It is high-tech, homegrown and we are on the verge of breakthroughs like cellulosic ethanol that will make ethanol even cleaner and greener. Thus, we'll be able to meet the higher demand for ethanol by using sustainable feedstock and cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85% compared to gasoline. Increasing the base blend will ensure we have a market for cellulosic ethanol."
Broin strongly urges the U.S. EPA to consider the findings in the DOE report and take the necessary action to move toward adopting a higher base blend of ethanol as soon as possible. "American innovation has always led us to a brighter future. As our scientific advances continue, ethanol will keep serving as a sustainable and effective energy solution for the world," he says.