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Banking on Biofuels

January 7, 2013
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
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The cellulosic ethanol plant DuPont will complete in 2014 will sit next to the Lincolnway Energy plant in Nevada, Iowa. Officials hope to tap into synergies between the plants.  

Development ramps up for cellulosic ethanol

Athick mat of corn stubble stretches across Jeff Taylor’s fields after harvest each fall like a dense, golden carpet. The sturdy stalks, developed through years of focused breeding efforts, don’t completely decompose during the winter and interfere with spring planting. Taylor thinks he might finally have a solution. He believes a new cellulosic ethanol plant under construction a few miles south of his farm will help him turn the tough cornstalks into cash.

"All of a sudden, farmers have a market for a product that wasn’t even a commodity two or three years ago," says Taylor, who lives near Nevada, Iowa, the site of a cellulosic ethanol plant DuPont will complete in 2014.

The $200 million plant will use cornstalks and cobs, called stover, to produce 30 million gallons of biofuel annually. The site was selected, in part, because of synergies company officials hope to gain with Lincolnway Energy LLC, whose corn ethanol plant sits on an adjacent plot.

The new plant will require 375,000 dry tons of stover each year to meet the company’s annual biofuel output goal, reports James Collins, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences. That will require DuPont to contract with up to 500 corn growers within a 30-mile radius of Nevada.

"This is the first of 100 plants we expect to build over the next 20 years," Collins says, noting that the plants will be built in heavy corn production areas.

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Harvesting stover offers farmers such as Jeff Taylor of Nevada, Iowa, agronomic and financial payoffs.

Friendly fuel. Cellulosic ethanol is a renewable energy source that does not contribute to the  food-versus-fuel controversy like corn ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is produced from nonfood sources, ranging from corn stover to industrial wastes, such as paper sludge.

"The production process delivers a clean-burning, high-octane fuel that is the same as ethanol made from corn," says Dan Burden, program coordinator for the national Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

More than 20 companies are currently exploring opportunities with the biofuel. One of them,  Abengoa Bioenergy, is constructing a cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Hutchinson, Kan. It will require 65 full-time employees upon completion in 2014.

Poet, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., is building a cellulosic ethanol plant near Emmetsburg, Iowa, via a joint venture with Royal DSM, a $12 billion Dutch-based company.

Poet plans to co-locate cellulosic production with its 27 corn ethanol plants and produce up to 1 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, reports Wade Robey, senior vice president for technology.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - January 2013

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