New ethanol plants may be hurt by changed fuel standardPublished 12:00pm Tuesday, December 17, 2013
EMMETSBURG, IOWA — After years of being on the drawing board, the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plants are scheduled to start operation next year.
Instead of using kernels of corn, they’ll make the fuel from “biomass” — corn stalks, wood chips and other low-value plant material.
But just as the process is set to become a reality, some question whether it can fuel a viable business without considerable government support.
One of the first cellulosic ethanol plants is nearing completion just 30 miles south of the Minnesota border in northwest Iowa, where more than 300 construction workers are building a facility for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels.
“We’re going to be running 770 tons of biomass through this facility every day,” said Matt Merritt, public relations director for the company, headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Much of the biomass from area farms already is stored near the plant in huge piles, ready to be turned into ethanol. It largely consists of six foot high round bales of corn stalks, husks and cobs. Merritt said the operation will extract sugar from the plant material, and then ferment the sugar into ethanol.
For more than a decade, the company has been working on making cellulosic ethanol for commercial purposes. Since 2008, POET has produced ethanol at a pilot cellulosic plant, and last year it formed a partnership with DSM, a Dutch conglomerate.