The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a $6.85 million funding increase to an existing grant to ethanol producer POET. This is the first of two funding increases from DOE to help establish a market for corn cobs. The second, expected next year, is estimated to provide an additional $13.15 million. Cobs are the feedstock for POET’s effort to commercialize cellulosic ethanol, Project LIBERTY, which will be built in Emmetsburg, Iowa.
The grant increases will play a key role in establishing corn cobs as a viable commodity and setting the stage for corn cob harvesting across the United States, according to POET.
The additional funds will be used to develop the feedstock infrastructure for cellulosic ethanol production. POET will work with equipment manufacturers to help speed the process of getting cob-harvesting technology into fields around Emmetsburg and will incentivize early adopters of cob harvesting.
Project LIBERTY (Launch of an Integrated Bio-refinery with Eco-sustainable and Renewable Technologies in Y2009) is a 25 million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will be attached to the current grain ethanol plant in Emmetsburg. (Earlier post.) Operations are scheduled to begin in late 2011. POET has operated a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Scotland, S.D. since November 2008. (Earlier post.)
The two grant increases will bring the total financial commitment from DOE to $100 million. Project LIBERTY, which includes building the commercial plant, helping farmers and equipment manufacturers develop a feedstock infrastructure and other costs, will total about $250 million.
Fourteen farmers in the Emmetsburg area will run cob harvests this year with prototype equipment from a variety of manufacturers. POET will develop and test the feedstock infrastructure for cob pick-up, delivery, and storage, which can be a model for replication at other biomass facilities.
A US Department of Agriculture study shows cobs contain 2-3 percent of the measured nutrients of the above-ground corn plant; DOE has issued a finding of No Significant Impact for Project LIBERTY; and the first year of a multi-year study by Iowa State University for POET showed that removing corn cobs from fields appears to have no substantial impact on soil nutrient content.
Additionally, the Draft Regulatory Impact Analysis by the US Environmental Protection Agency on changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard notes the economic benefit of using corn stover, which includes corn cobs, in making cellulosic ethanol.
POET, the largest ethanol producer in the world, is a 22-year-old company that produces more than 1.54 billion gallons of ethanol annually from 26 production facilities nationwide.