POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels, LLC, on Wednesday celebrated the official opening of the first cellulosic ethanol plant in the U.S. in Emmetsburg, Iowa.
The plant, named "Project LIBERTY," was formally opened 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 processed its first batch of biomass into cellulosic ethanol and is moving forward toward continuous operation. 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.
Further, Project LIBERTY will consume 285,000 tons of biomass annually from a 45-mile radius of the plant, and will spend approximately $20 million annually purchasing biomass from area farmers.
"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."
POET says the facility is a step forward in wider adoption of biofuels, both in North America and elsewhere. It is also a "victory" for the Renewable Fuel Standard, which prompted increased investment into advanced biofuels that accelerated development of this new technology, POET says.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the development of cellulosic ethanol is expected to be boosted as POET-DSM's Liberty process and technology to effectively convert agricultural residue using a proprietary cocktail of enzymes and yeast becomes available via licensing.
The project was made possible with assistance from a $100 million grant from the Department of Energy and $20 million in grants for capital costs and feedstock logistics from the state of Iowa.
USDA also invested $2.6 million to support the delivery of more than 58,000 dry tons of corn crop residue, helping establish the feedstock logistics network.
Assuming continued support from the RFS program and depending on the adoption rate of cellulosic ethanol both in and outside the United States, POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC has the potential to achieve net sales of about $250 million from bio-ethanol and license income by 2020 with EBITDA margins clearly above average, the company said.
Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis lauded the plant opening Wednesday, calling it a "massive achievement."
"The opening of Project LIBERTY marks the beginning of a new way in which we produce clean burning, renewable fuels. POET-DSM is leading way in the production of cellulosic biofuels. Their work and progress will help our nation in the pursuit of energy independence and mitigating climate change," he said in a statement.
According to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, the biofuels industry supports more than 82,000 jobs. POET says more than 50 people are employed at the plant directly, and biomass harvesting is indirectly creating another 200 jobs.
"We have been relentless supporters of the biofuels industry and know that the success of biofuels is a result of the efforts by hard-working farmers, the hard-working Iowans at the biofuels facilities and the communities that support them," Branstad said. "We want to work with companies like POET-DSM, and others, to sustain and grow more careers here at home."