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Dutch King Christens POET Cellulosic Ethanol Plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, Wednesday

Want to meet the King of the Netherlands? Go to Emmetsburg, Iowa, Wednesday and see His Majesty Willem-Alexander break a wooden shoe across the bow of the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the country.

The King is coming because Dutch bioscience firm Royal DSM has partnered with Sioux Falls-based ethanol producer POET in Project Liberty, an effort to make ethanol out of something other than stuff we eat. DSM has developed the enzyme that breaks down corn-waste cellulose; POET has built the new processing plant in Emmetsburg that will use DSM's biotech to turn 770 tons of corn stover (cobs, leaves, husks, and stalks) into 20 million gallons (and eventually 25 million gallons) of cellulosic ethanol each year.

A UNL study earlier this year contended that making biofuel from corn stover would do more harm than sticking with gasoline by removing biomass from the soil and reducing farmland's capacity to capture carbon dioxide. The EPA says the study is based on the erroneous assumption that cellulosic ethanol harvesting would remove all of the stover from farm fields. POET says it is promoting sustainable corn waste harvest methods that would leave about 75% of the biomass on the ground to maintain soil nutrients and prevent erosion. We have to burn more fuel to make more passes over the corn fields to collect this biomass, but POET says removing excess corn waste will allow farmers to make fewer tillage passes over their fields to incorporate the remaining residue or make it easier to go to no-till farming.

So welkom Koning Willem-Alexander, and gefeliciteerd en veel geluk to Poet and DSM on making celluslosic ethanol commercially viable.


  1. mike fro iowa 2014.09.01

    I was ijn Emmetsburg,iowa burying phone cable for Ma Bell) the day Elvis left the building. They have a 100% accurate presidential flush poll and serve green beer on Saint Patrick's Day. They also gave a casino-the Wild Rose. Located on US Hiway 18. That is about all they got.

    I noticed alot of local farmers baled corn stalks this past year or so and hauled them to E-Burg. Some strip their fields nearly clean,others rake the loose stubble and leave the rest. Time will tell if the plant and/or the cropland survives. iowa is serious about renewable fuel sources. Can't wait for wind generators to pop up and block the views.

  2. Bob Klein 2014.09.01

    I'd like to know how much ethanol is produced from each bale of stover. There isn't much weight to a bale. It is relatively expensive to transport bales as compared to shelled corn because of the density of the product.

  3. mike fro iowa 2014.09.01

    Bob Klein-this is a pretty good read. The bales they want weigh a ton and I think they said they can get 80 gals/per bale.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.01

    Mike, does making and hauling those heavy bales cause any additional damage to fields or roads that don't happen under current corn cultivation practices?

  5. mike fro iowa 2014.09.01

    Cory-this report(skip down to page 10-12) shows how corn combining and baling stover is done in one trip across the field. Most large round bales-POET takes and Dupont doesn't-weigh upwards of 1600 pounds and most farmers make at least two passes after harvest to collect the stover. There really doesn't seem to be any more damage than normal and the way Dupont does it_they have their own crews to harvest and transport square bales-is probably more efficient and less stressful to roads and fields.

  6. Bob Klein 2014.09.02

    Thanks for the link, I will look at it.

    It's a bit silly to suggest that adding trucks to roads will not result in more damage. And this product is not being hauled from fields now. As for damage to fields, that seems (to me) harder to measure.

  7. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.09.02

    Back in the day, it seems like all the neighbors, and us, had a way to catch the small grain straw as we passed over the fields. It was attached to the rear of the combine so no extra passes were required.

    As the use of crop refuse continues to grow, John Deere will certainly develop equipment to handle it more efficiently. If a market appears for farm equipment, the Deere will fill it. I'm willing to bet that they have been working on it for quite some time already.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.09.02

    Ah. I just got Mike's resource downloaded and see that good progress is already being made in stover harvest. There are only a few steps left.

    I noted the brochure referenced the numerous changes need to be made in equipment and infrastructure. So? Isn't that like oil pipelines, road improvements, rail tank car reinforcement, etc? I don't think spilled stover bales will constitute an environmental disaster. Nor will water supplies be endangered. They won't cause earthquakes. No fires and explosions.

    While it's true that ethanol from any source is as volatile as oil based fuels, I'm talking about the raw product.

    Yeah, given a choice, I'll go with the biologics.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.03

    Field compaction—that's the term I was looking for! Indeed, as Deb notes, the researchers appear to be keenly aware of that issue and others. I like Deb's note that a stover bale spill will have minimal environmental impact (though a tumbling bale could dent my Beetle!). We seem to be adding a potential revenue stream for every farmer who grows corn, with apparently little increased operating cost (how many already bale that stover?).

    But notice we're still doing just corn. When will DSM engineer some enzymes to digest switchgrass or other less environmentally taxing crops?

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