Following a successful start-up in the fourth quarter of 2008, POET Research Center in Scotland, South Dakota is now producing cellulosic ethanol at a pilot scale at a rate of 20,000 gallons per year using corn cobs as feedstock. (Earlier post.) The $8 million endeavor is a precursor to the $200 million Project LIBERTY, a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant that will begin production in 2011. POET is the world’s largest producer of ethanol, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
After producing 1,000 gallons, we’ve already been able to validate all of what we learned in the lab and believe the process will be ready for commercialization when we start construction on Project LIBERTY next year.—Jeff Broin, POET CEO
The pilot plant is located in Scotland, S.D., the site of a 9 million gallon per year starch ethanol production facility and a starch pilot facility. POET is pursuing an integrated starch- and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery model that could see cellulosic production capacity added to their 26 plants that currently produce 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol from corn per year.
The pilot project is the result of a significant investment in research by POET over the last eight years toward commercializing cellulosic ethanol. In 2008 alone, POET spent $20 million on research, doubling its research staff and tripling the size of its lab in Sioux Falls.
POET’s process provides the environmental benefits of cellulosic ethanol—an 87% greenhouse gas reduction over gasoline according to Argonne National Laboratory—without having significant impact on the environment. Corn cobs, POET’s feedstock, are safe to remove from the field. Cobs account for only 7.5% of the entire corn plant according to Iowa State University. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says cobs contain 2-3% of measured nutrients of the above-ground corn plant.
Harvesting biomass has been a key challenge to commercializing cellulosic ethanol. POET’s process provides the opportunity for farmers to expand their current role in ethanol production by harvesting cobs along with corn. Ag equipment manufacturers have worked closely with POET to provide farmers with cob-harvesting options that will be available soon.
POET produces and markets more than 1.54 billion gallons of ethanol annually.