POET Harvests Corn Cobs for Cellulosic Ethanol Feedstock Research

Several leading agricultural equipment manufactures are working with ethanol-producer POET to refine methods for harvesting, storing and transporting corn cobs for commercial cellulosic ethanol production.

POET says it focused on corn cobs for cellulosic feedstock for many reasons. First, the collection of corn cobs will require minimal additional effort and will have little to no impact on the environment, according to the company. The cob is only 18 percent of the above ground stover, so the collection will not adversely impact soil quality. Second, a higher carbohydrate content than the rest of the plant will allow POET to create more ethanol from the cob. Finally, since the cob has a higher bulk density than other parts of the corn stalk, it is easier to transport from the field to the facility.

Harvesting cobs represents a significant new revenue opportunity for farmers and communities with cellulosic ethanol production facilities, according to the company. Because this is the first time cobs will be harvested on such a massive scale, POET is still modeling what they will be able to pay for the cobs. At $30-60 per ton, it could represent $25-$75,000 in additional revenue for an average-size farmer and $3-9 million in additional revenue for a community.

POET is harvesting, storing, transporting and performing research on 4,000 acres of corn in South Dakota this fall.

Jeff Broin, CEO of POET, said, “We are going to do something that has never been done before: produce cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs on a commercial scale. When our Emmetsburg, Iowa plant is operational in 2011, it will necessitate harvesting, storing and transporting 275,000 acres of corn cobs. The 4,000 acres we’re harvesting this fall represents the first step toward making that massive harvest achievable.”

Project Liberty, the transformation of a 50 MGPY grain-to-ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa into an integrated corn-to-ethanol and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery, is jointly funded by POET and the United States Department of Energy. Once complete, the facility will produce 125 million gallons of ethanol per year, of which 25 million gallons will be from corn fiber and corn cobs. By adding cellulosic production to an existing grain ethanol plant, POET will be able to produce 11 percent more ethanol from a bushel of corn, 27 percent more from an acre of corn, while significantly reducing fossil fuel consumption for the entire facility.
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