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POET Funds Starch to Ethanol Research Collaboration with Iowa State University

A research collaboration with Iowa State University into starch for ethanol production is receiving funds from POET. Through the collaboration with POET research, ISU researcher Jay-lin Jane is hoping to find starches to further improve the efficiency of POET’s patent-pending BPX process.

BPX is a raw starch hydrolysis that converts starch to sugar and then ferments to ethanol without the use of heat. It is utilized in 20 of POET’s 22 ethanol production facilities. Benefits include reduced energy costs, increased ethanol yields, increased nutrient quality in the feed co-products and decreased plant emissions.

Our collaboration with Dr. Jay-lin Jane is intended to extend the performance of our patent-pending BPX process to provide a greater yield of ethanol per bushel of corn without the need for cooking. By understanding the starch structure and methods of processing starch, we expect to be able to target further increases in ethanol yield per bushel, reductions in energy required and improvements to the quality of distillers grains.

—Dr. Mark Stowers, Vice President of Research & Development at POET

Different lines of corn have different starches, according to Jane, who is trying to identify which lines of corn starches are more easily hydrolyzed by the enzyme and the mechanism of enzyme hydrolysis of uncooked cornstarch. The best starch needs to break down more easily. Jane has found that starches with certain molecular and granular structures work best.

Some starches are loosely packed in the granule and can be hydrolyzed easily, while others, especially those with different crystalline structures, will be difficult for the enzyme to hydrolyze.

—Jay-lin Jane

Once the right starches are found, POET will use that knowledge to further optimize its BPX process. The research collaboration received additional support through a grant from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, which seeks to create high quality jobs through business development and expansion.

POET currently operates 22 production facilities in the United States with six more in construction or under development. The company produces and markets more than 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol annually.

Comments

John Taylor

"Jay-lin Jane is hoping to find starches to further improve the efficiency of POET’s patent-pending BPX process."

Translation ... they hope to find a cheap way to turn the cornstalks into ethanol too.

Mark A

When it says "starches are loosly packed in the granule", that appears to mean, to me, in the kernel of the corn. That lost it for me right there. I see no reason to fund any research into trying to turn our food supply into fuel for our vehicles. Utter nonsense to me. We will pay for this at some point in the future.

Ethanol (gasohol) never was, and never will be a smart answer to our current problems. Butanol would be better, but only if it didnt use our food supply as the feed source.

Perhaps if all this funding for dead end ideas would go into battery research and/or fuel cell research we all could have affordable electric vehicles powered by either batteries, hydrogen, fuel cells, solar panels, or cow dung!

Henrik

Corn ethanol is a good step to reduce both the CO2 footprint and the dependence on imports from the enemies of democracy. The US now produces 8.06 billion gallons a year. That is 8.06/140 = 5.8% of the entire US gasoline consumption. Up from basically noting 5 years ago. POET is doing a great job to reduce CO2 and indirectly secure our democracy. However, I agree the future does not belong to corn ethanol because corn is already costing $5.2 a bushel and this is $208 a ton. This is a lot when you can get hundreds of millions of tons of cellulosic biomass in the US alone for $50 a ton delivered (crude oil at $100 a barrel is 6.25*100 = $625 a ton for comparison). Once the very high capital cost for converting biomass to ethanol has been reduced the days of corn ethanol will be over and out and the inexpensive corn ethanol factories will be converted to cellulosic biomass to ethanol production.

High food prices are not at any important degree driven by food based biofuels (there is simply not enough demand from biofuel factories yet to make a price difference globally). No, the increasing food prices are driven first and foremost by increased food demand created by the obese epidemic that is spreading all over the world at alarming speed. It has spread even to Africa where 60% of all humans are now suffering from overweight and excessive obese.

It is really hard to believe that Africa’s biggest problem is obese and not hunger so here is the source http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7057951.stm . We really need to stop our opposition to food based biofuels because it is based on fairytales abut starving children in Africa. One bushel of corn can make almost 3 gallons of ethanol. It can only make about one meal for a family having beef etc for dinner. Global economic growth has enabled people even in Africa to eat meat and fat instead of cooked grain. This is why food is going up.

Mark A

I do not agree with everything you say, Henrik. Sure, corn usage at the current levels has little effect on current food prices and availability. High fuel costs have much more of an effect. And I also believe obesity is out of control, even in places where hunger is believed to be.

What I worry about is the massive proliferation of new gasohol plants currently being built, and the plans for more. In other words, the high GROWTH of new ethanol plants going up. These plants will not want to be sitting idle waiting for cellulosic biomass to come to fruition, or run at less than full capacity!!! Then our food supply and availability will take a double hit. (Its almost like we are driving off a cliff, and instead of hitting the brakes, we are pushing the accelerator pedal through the floor!!!!)

There is no forward vision here, just short sighted, self serving, profit driven, special interests throwing our grandchildren and great grandchildren's future out the window!! Since when have we, as a society, become so greedy?!?!

sjc

When I saw all the ethanol plants being funded and constructed, I figured that they had a plan B in mind. I think that they would use those plants for cellulose ethanol if the conversion were not too costly. I bet that it is not and that is why they went ahead. I have no proof of this, but as a business person I would want that option.

ben

I don't think you need to worry about the "plans" for more ethanol when corn is at $208/ton. As Henrik says biomass will be $50/ton - at worst about $60/ton and could produce nearly as many gallons/ton as corn with the right technology. So corn based ethanol Business isn't stupid - and capital moves very rapidly. Nobody can afford to lose money on their capital investment and you don't pay for it by running if the crush is negative. Think about it - at $5/bushell and 2.7 gal/bushel (practical yield), the cost/gal of feedstock alone is nearly $2. So no one can make money on this price, unless the capital is already paid and the processing costs are less than $.20 - unrealistic.

About the research, there is good reason to work on better efficiency of existing plants. We don't really want to give up the capacity that we have unless you want more imported crude and even higher gas prices!

Mark A

Its obvious none of you guys have ever planted corn in your lives. I have, in the not so distant past, on a much smaller scale than the farms around Iowa State University, which ironically is involved in this research. Growing corn is not easy, comparatively speaking, even when conditions are perfect. Corn is highly susceptiple to major weather events, like droughts or Katrina style flooding and wind damage. Also the idea of using the corn "stover" in biomass cellulose is also a flawed proposition, as this decrease in re-incorprated plant material back into the soil will over time damage the soil, perhaps returning us back to the days of the dust bowl, when nothing would grow due to rain defecits and weak soil, left to blow at the mercy of the winds.

But back to cellulosic biomass, there is no guarantee that this "key" will ever be successfully unlocked, as far as volume based production is involved. These gasohol plants cant be banking on a technology that may never be unlocked, can they??? How short sighted is that???

Henrik

SJC

You are right. They do have a plan B and that is conversion to cellulosic ethanol production when that process technology is ready in a few years. This news announcement (see link below) about a new Italian ethanol plant is announced as a cellulosic plant but when you read on you see that they intend to start up using corn and then later on convert to cellulosic ethanol. I think this confirms (a little bit) that it is not really difficult to switch technology also because the distillation and fermentation step is largely preserved when switching. It depends on the technology used as you already know but if enzymes or acids are used to break down cellulose to fermentable sugar and starch then the entire corn to ethanol apparatus can be reused in the cellulosic fabric. They just add a few more steps in the production process.

http://www.checkbiotech.org/green_News_Biofuels.aspx?infoId=17001


Mark

I agree with you that the world is much too shortsighted and greedy. This is at least for my own taste and I believe it is creating unnecessarily many problems that we have to spend too much effort to fix ex post. However, as Ben points out capital moves rapidly and with the past few years huge changes in oil and corn prices the economic case for cellulosic ethanol is making a lot more sense. We could probably build a profitable factory right now with the technology we have for cellulosic conversion but if you wait just 18 months more you can finish development of substantially more economic technology that will importantly lower the financial risk of the project. I think this is what is happening right now. We have seen several announcements lately about progress in such process technology and there are many more that are not announced at all because the technology is developed by established firms that do not need to make announcements to attract investors. I am rather optimistic that we can rid ourselves of our dependence on fossil fuel. Cellulosic ethanol in combination with new battery/capacitator technology will do the trick.

Stan Peterson

Bio fuels are but one substitute for petroleum. I have no objection to its creation. But this industry is a temporary business, and is created by un-economic government subsidy.

That is all right, since current Petroleum pricing bears no relationship to cost of production either. At least for the last 40 years or so.

But when it is no longer needed and still uneconomic, I fear that the government subsidies that keep bio fuels alive, will not cease. There is no human thing more perpetual, than a government subsidy program. Look at the Department of Housing. Create in the 1930s when two thirds of our citizens rented, and lived in inadequate facilities, Eighty years later two thirds of our "in poverty" citizens own their own homes. A triumph certainly. Yet the government programs grind on. The excesses leading us into a possible recession, the second time since the 1980s traceable to excess housing subsidy, long after the need for it disappeared.

It is pure sophistry and propaganda to think that fuels produced from recently dead plants, are somehow better than fuels produced from long dead plants. Its just that we have quantities of recently dead plants, and the sheiks and commissars control the fuel from long dead plants. Saying it is bad for mankind to dig up carbon, yet it all right for plants to take up carbon from the ground, is just pure ignorant stupidity.

Substitution has always been Mankind's answer to scarcities. Some substitution can be done readily. In those cases, we may not even notice the substitution.

Other substitution takes a lot more time to develop adequate substitutes. In the case of petroleum for Transport applications, we have been developing answers for almost forty years and still have half a decade more to go before satisfactory substitutes are readily available, but they are now visibly coming. Electrification of Ground Transport is almost here.

Meanwhile substitution has been adopted for most other applications. Except for the housing supply of older than 40 year old housing, HVAC needs are met without resort to petroleum. And it is clear from the statistics. Ditto for electrical generation; virtually no electricity is produced from petroleum sources any longer these days.

Despite the utter nonsense of the hysterical AGW concerns, the real problem with petroleum is the toxic emissions, and not CO2. The IPCC is already promising in its publications, that CO2 is about to fade as a concern, in its next Interim Report, AR5, due around 2011-2012. By then CO2 will have been scientifically demonstrated and measured to be able to alter the temperature by but a single tenth of a single degree per century or less. Science will then have the actual answers, in response to the AGW hypotheses proposed in concerned but scientific concerned ignorance, in the 1970s.

We have come a long way in cleansing the ICE but there is still more work to be done.

But even there we have almost completed the task. It is getting awfully close, in the cleanest gasoline ICEs, so called PZEVs, to being able to breath the emissions from a tailpipe (after cooling and adding Oxygen of course), without toxic effect. Otto cycle ICEs are still a ways away. The USA standard T2B5 is barely acceptable, and the EU standards for OTTO cycle engines are hopelessly deficient. But if a diesel can meet T2B5, there is no reason that T2B2 in not possible. I urge the adoption of such a standard, wihtin the next decade. That would be a truly "clean diesel".

gr

Interesting discussion. The food for fuel invention seems to be on very wobbly feet. No private sector or government supported ethanol project is going forward without an eye to cellulosic conversion. As it is, new midwestern ethanol facilities are standing idle because the price of corn/bushel is too high. When the new cellulosic facilities come online, the manufactured "pressure" on corn prices will drop and the food argument will become extinct.

With FT, garbage > syngas, cellulosic and the massive move to PHEVs on the way we should see a real 60-70% reduction in petroleum use per PHEV (EPRI). With energy solutions arriving faster than the poet's pen - it may be time to look at Henrik's concern about obesity. High fat, high carb, meat-laden diets are both unhealthy for the population and their habitats.

Mark A

I agree with gr and Henrik about the obesity problem. But we have to take charge of our own selves, not have government subsidies/mandates to make us be more healthy.

But this subsidation of gasohol is just completely wrong. It will become a cash cow for the ethanol lobbyists, that will never stop eating!

Henrik

Mark

The subsidy for ethanol is $0.5 per gallon. This is much and as a good principle no industry should depend on subsidies. Nevertheless, fossil fuel is most likely to be far more subsidized. Most people, would agree that we would not spend $200 billion a year to stabilize Iraq if it was not for the purpose of securing crude oil imports. The US consumes 140 billion gallons of gasoline of which 66% is made on foreign oil. That is about 90 billion gallons of import. The indirect subsidy for imported fossil fuel is therefore about $2 per gallon that is paid over the taxes and used by the department of defense. This is four times the size of the ethanol subsidy!

The logic of this is that by subsidizing homemade fuels not only do we not need to go to war we also save a lot of money for subsidizing imported fuels. Also economic history has offered many examples of industries that were initially subsidized in order to get them started. After efficient production technology and factories where in place you could stop the subsidies. I think ethanol is such an industry that needs a subsidy in the next 10 to 15 years and thereafter they will be able to do fine without any subsidy and they will even be able to compete if oil drops to $50 a barrel. Falling crude oil prices I don’t believe is very likely. There will be plenty of consumers, unfortunately, to keep the price up even with massive global ethanol production and PHEV prevalence. Greed will prevent us from burning off the remaining oil and natural gas. However, coal will be too expensive in a few decades when compared to solar and wind power. So we will not burn off all of the coal on the planet and hopefully that is enough to prevent a GW disaster scenario. Also the ethanol industry could be used to capture and sequester the CO2 from ethanol fermentation. This could be one of the few options we have to actually undo 100 years of CO2 pollution and decrease the atmospheric CO2 level to 300 ppm.

sjc

Energy is such a huge issue, that it may take decades to implement what is needed. We have had 30 years since the 1979 oil embargo to figure out a course of action. Since then, various world events and administrations have come and gone, with little sustained coherent policy.

It should be obvious that fossil fuels are finite. To wait until the last minute to scramble is not advanced planning. If we have a parallel alternative waiting to take over, we could all feel a little more secure. This would calm economic markets and make the future seem just a bit more predictable.

Nathan Schock

@Mark A,

You state that "using the corn 'stover' in biomass cellulose is also a flawed proposition, as this decrease in re-incorprated plant material back into the soil will over time damage the soil." That could be true if you removed all of the stover and didn't plant a winter cover crop to replenish the soil. However, with more farmers going to 15-inch rows many are dealing with too much residue and could remove some of their stover without damaging the soil.

Studies have consistently shown that removing up to 25% of the stover has no impact on soil quality. Others have shown that you can remove up to half. The cobs represent less than 20% of the above-ground stover, so they could be removed without any impact on soil quality. The cobs alone could produce 5 billion gallons of ethanol and make a significant dent on imported oil.

sjc

Not only are corn cobs good for that, but they can be made into an ANG adsorber. Interesting what you can do with "waste" when there is a need to.

When someone states that cellulose biofuels will rob the land, it seems like they want that to be the final comment and we all just give up and walk away. Or they are using that to get more information in the form of a counterpoint.

Just about anything that I can think of has some downside. If those are considered, you can make a more complete and formal plan, but you can probably not please everyone. Environmentalists mostly wanted companies to take other factors into consideration and became labeled as treehugging obstructionists.

No one should let names deter them. If anyone has a valid point, they should be heard, but do not let the discussion stop there. No one has all the information nor all the facts. It is discussion that brings us closer to an informed decision. Once that is understood, you can see how making good decisions on a large scale can take some time.

DrG

Corn stover may not be available for ethanol.
Last fall driving through SE Wisconsin I saw many places where it had been round baled, something I had never noticed before.
Apparently it is now being used for both cattle feed and paper pulp.
This paper http://www.nrbp.org/papers/050.pdf suggests it will be more valuable for that purpose than for ethanol.

Arnold

Overuse of any land is a fast track to degradation. Corn is a highly demanding crop that traditionally depleted farmlands at the highest rate.
Economic drivers are up there as obstacles to good management. Shortcuts and lack of investing in the soil health, inability to rest and alternate crops.
According to scientific theory, All earths soils (except the diminishing amounts that are being newly laid down by volcano, glacial turning, some weathering process) Are running down by natural processes. The areas where vegetation succeeds can build up fertility but this is generally a slow process.
Modern farming processes which rely on chemical inputs are not sustainable in a greenhouse world as the fossil fuel inputs are energy hungry, contribute large percentage eg (40% N)globally! and have a proven depletion record for biological reserves.
At the same time as farmlands are under particular stress, and known to be diminishing in area from degradation, on a trend line covering thousands of years, while no new sustainable areas are proven.
Some suggest that climate change will open up new areas but these are likely to be more than offset by the higher rate of retirement of present farmland.
The farmlands retiring will not be retired in a condition to support a natural system, again compounding loss of diversity and carbon sink options.
Sustainable production of bio fuels in these scenario will need careful management and this aspect needs to be understood by those who intend to supply feedstocks.
Unfortunately the financial market operators are not always concerned with the sustainability of projects beyond he near term and many fly by nighters and financial interests are likely to rush the most profitable short term objectives.

David

Yes I agree growing corn or any crop requires investment and has potential risks. Is it not better that farmers within your country generate an income that they in turn locally, instead of buying oil from foreign countries ? On food costs, one thing not mentioned is that the packaging (specifically the bag that holds the cereal in a box of cereal is a large part of what the consumer is paying for at the grocery store.

On corn from ethanol, the move is being made to cellulosic ethanol through a gasification process. As noted above the cost in starting materials is an order of magnitude cheaper than oil or corn per ton. Coskata in a joint venture with GM is bringing plant on line in 2010, not too far away from now. Switch grass is one type of cellulosic raw materials, it is a natural prarie grass that was around before fields were planted with corn and wheat, the switch grass can be "crop rotated" to help enrich/ recover from growing food crops.

http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/01/13/gm-and-coskata-announce-worldwide-cellulosic-ethanol-partnership/

Chance

Ethanol is for drinking people. Yes ethanol does work as a fuel and is easier and cheaper than butanol to make right now but just Imagine for a second or three that all the compinies that are atempting to produce ethanol some how got together and concentrated all the knowlage, money, and brain power they have into the production of the far better fuel butanol! The more immediate problem is the foreign part of oil production, the "green" part is not as important righ now. Butanol helps to solve boath. Here is a little bet for anyone to consider. I'll bet the U.S. national debt that if all the people working on ethanol fuel production worked togeather and swiched to butanol fuel that any problems would be solved a lot faster. Futhermore all of us Americans need to stop buying new cars and force the automakers, by taking away any profits they are making now, to make more efficient engines. (The government standard is way too low.) To anyone who says it cost too much to produce butanol fuel I say we have allready spent the necessary money on inefficient crap cars, and protolem fuel. These companies that are making, and have made the necessary money to make the better alternative,are brainwashed and unmotivated because we are giving them our money for the crap they are making. This needs to stop. There is plenty of money to solve any production problems. The real problem is that it's not being spent in the right places. Our tax money helped a small company called angel labs get a prototype new engine (Advertising 100+ MPG) to the stage it was in 2006 (I can't find any newer info. about it.) and then what hapened to it?(As a taxpayer I demand that every dollar, and brain cell being used and spent to go to Mars be spent to help get that engine or something like it into mass production. Every one should be doing this. And it can happen if the "little people" stop forking over the money for the crap they are giving us now. we don't need an army or weapons all we need is to force an economic Depression for the big companies.) Stop fighting amongst each other. Pick one fuel butanol (Over all cost when converting the engines to burn and a new distribution system needs to be built for ethanol are factored in, any production cost differance becomes small.) even if it is not the very best "Green wise" right now and mass produce it righ here in the U.S.A. at least it is better than selling the country to the rest of the world so we can sit in trafic, because we are (At least a big majority) too selfish and brainwashed to take a bus. Once we get away from the forgin debt we have, then we can resume the fighting over the "green" issues. Look at the most important part of the "big picture" fix the most revelant problems first and hey if we are as good as some are saying then we might just fix a few of the other problems in the process.

sjc

The old phrase went something like "whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over".

If the water requirements for fermentation ethanol versus cellulose gasification and synthesis are considered, they may favor gasification of cellulose.

I saw a number that stated how much water and acre of corn takes to grow. It seemed like a huge number, but if you use some of the stalks and cobs from the corn that you are already growing for food, that would not be extra water.

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