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POET Produces Cellulosic Ethanol from Corn Cobs

POET (formerly Broin), the largest dry-mill ethanol producer, has produced cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs. The company announced the results of the successful test along with their intentions to make cobs and corn fiber the feedstock for a commercial cellulosic ethanol production facility that will be jointly funded with the US Department of Energy (DOE).

POET has also produced cellulosic ethanol from fiber, the husk of the kernel, which is extracted through its proprietary BFRAC fractionation process.

The cellulosic project that POET is jointly funding with the DOE will convert an existing 50 million gallon per year (mgpy) dry-mill ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa into a commercial cellulosic biorefinery.

The project is named LIBERTY: Launch of an Integrated Bio-refinery with Eco-sustainable and Renewable Technologies in Y2009. Once complete, the facility will produce 125 mgpy of ethanol, 25% of which will be from cellulosic feedstock.

Broin has licensed a unique integrated lignocellulose conversion technology package developed by DuPont that converts high volumes of both the cellulose and hemicellulose (or simple and complex sugars) in corn plants into ethanol. Broin is also collaborating with Novozymes on providing state-of-the-art enzyme technology in the cellulosic biomass field.

By adding cellulosic production to an 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 almost completely eliminating fossil fuel consumption and decreasing water usage by 24%. Last week, POET announced that Jim Sturdevant, a 22-year veteran of the US Geological Survey, will serve as director of the project.

For a host of reasons, POET is focused on corn fiber and cobs as the first cellulosic feedstock for our production facilities. First, the fiber that comes from our fractionation process will provide 40 percent of our cellulosic feedstock from the corn kernels that we are already processing in our facility. That means that nearly half of our cellulosic feedstock comes with no additional planting, harvest, storage or transportation needs.

The rest of the cellulosic feedstock will come from corn cobs which will expand the amount of ethanol that can come from a corn crop with minimal additional effort and little to no environmental impact. There is no major market for cobs, so we will be producing cellulosic ethanol from an agricultural residue and because the cob is only 18 percent of the above ground stover, it will not adversely impact soil quality.

—Jeff Broin, CEO of POET

Dr. Mark Stowers, VP of Research & Development for POET said the cob has several advantages from an ethanol production perspective, including more carbohydrate content than the rest of the corn plant and higher bulk density than the other parts of the corn stalk, making it easier to transport from the field to the facility.


Alex Kovnat

This is great news!

I am also pleased to read about extraction of corn oil from distiller's grain for subsequent processing to BioDiesel, which will likewise lead to more biofuel output per bushel of corn.

I hope that developments such as the above, will reduce the pressure to impose draconian fuel economy requirements on the auto industry.

----Alex Kovnat


Great news--if their figures are correct. My concern is using feedstock for fuel and the energy it takes to harvest and process.

I'm surprised as to how much energy is in the corn husk and cobs.

P Schager

This sounds like great work, but something's up with the apparent claim that adding cellulosic ethanol is going to eliminate most of the fossil fuel consumption. There are ways to do that, like solar distillation (distillation is your major energy cost traditionally with ethanol) but that's a separate subject from cellulosic. It's as if the widespread confusion on the matter is in somebody's favor so they decided to just go with it, as long as it can be strung along. Possibly they're burning a large amount of the stover for process heat, or they mean eliminating additional fossil fuel consumption for the extra feedstock or extra output.


Woooo, there. Ethanol. whether it be corn based or cellulosic will continue to make a relatively minimal contribution to our fuel supply. Further, even though ethanol may be slightly better that gasoline or diesel with respect to net greenhouse gases emitted, it will still be necessary to significantly cut our fuel consumption, regardless of the source.

There is nothing draconian about the proposed CAFE standards, especially since they are already being met in Europe.

However, serious consideration should be given to adopting safety standards that would apply universally, starting with Europe, Japan, and the United States. My understanding is that the way that the U.S. tests is unnecessarily restrictive. We perform our tests without safety belts while the Europeans include them. That is just nuts.

I suspect that the domestic automakers are perfectly happy with the extra costs and weight required to meet U.S. safety standards. Universalizing them would make it much easier for the Europeans to compete with their more fuel efficient vehicles.

With increasing warming, drought, aquifier reduction, and soil erosion, any scheme to fuel our vehicles with biofuels will be a disastrous and short sighted approahc. Marginal improvements in processing will not change those basic realities.

This article says nothing about costs, so, in any event, it is a bit premature to get all excited about this new process.


Tom is right. Although this is a good first step, there's a lot more that needs to be sorted out for this process to get anywhere.


"Marginal improvements...."

Tom, I'm curious. If you were able to make modifications on your current car that allowed it to consume 27% less fuel, or you were able to make adjustments at your home that resulted in using 24% less water, would you consider those marginal improvements?

Progress in progress. Whether you like it or not, the ethanol industry is off and running and we should be happy about double-digit gains in efficiency.


P. Schager, the fossil fuel reduction does come from burning stover for distillation heat. Not raw cob, actually, but portions of the cob (and possibly kernel) extracted at some point during the processing. Their web site claims 83% reduction in natural gas usage.

A non-cellulosic plant could burn stover as well. But if you go to the trouble to bring stover in from the fields you might as well process the cellulose instead of simply burning it.

POET doesn't mention it, but I think they end up with less DDG than a normal ethanol plant.


For now, HEVs and ethanol are the only emerging technologies to reduce fossil fuel use, so any improvements to that end is great news. Of course there are other, less significent technologies that will help, but they will have a limited impact. Hopefully PHEVs, EVs and Fuel cell automobiles will be commonplace, but not at this juncture.




New CAFE standards are now law. Colorado study shows 40% reduction in GHGs from corn and soy ethanol vs gasoline. 80% from switchgrass.

And let's not forget that CO2 GHG alone is a small component of the pollution concern from combustive fuels. Stanford's study shows ethanol averages 60% cleaner than gasoline in some 15 organic pollutants - with the exception of acetyldehyde and formaldehyde both of which can be addressed in processing.

Regardless we need a transition fuel and E85 is first in line. The sooner the franchise gas stations install E-85 pumps the sooner the transition begins. Obviously driving less is a part of the process.


Due to water and land use constraints ethanol is a no go. It has a huge lobby in D.C. and that is why it gets big play. ADM etc.

The real key is to de centralize energy production and reduce shipping and production costs.

Think ALGAE biofuels.

100 times more productive per acre give or take.
Grown in non farm areas.. no food competition.
More year round prodiction w/ weekly harvests.
On par w/ capital investments due to low land costs.
Co2 consumer... HUGE. Power plants, treatment plants etc

Closed or open systems each have investment vs. contamination but engeneered strains of algae producing up to 75% oil are possible..harvested weekly.


gr, the new CAFE standards are a long way from being law. They've passed in the Senate; that's all. They may pass in the House as well, but haven't yet. And the scuttlebutt is that if they do pass in the House, Bush is likely to veto them. Like I said, it's a *long* way from being law.

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