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Grand opening set for first large cellulosic plant

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 16, 2014 at 8:52 am •  Published: August 16, 2014
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A new era of ethanol fuel production will begin in the next few months as Iowa refineries begin full operation using materials other than corn kernels.

Iowa, the nation's top ethanol producer, has two major cellulosic plants under construction and nearly ready for production using corn plant leaves, stalks and cobs to make ethanol.

The first to go online, called Project Liberty, will hold a grand opening with public tours on Sept. 3. It is among the first facilities of its size in the United States to begin making ethanol from plant material.

The $250 million plant in the northwest Iowa city of Emmetsburg will produce 25 million gallons a year when fully operational.

Cellulosic ethanol is made from the woody and fibrous parts of plants, including corn cobs, stalks, leaves and other residue. It's more difficult to work with than corn kernels because scientists had to figure out a way to break lignin — the tough fibers that plants have developed through evolution to make stems, trees and corn stalks stiff — from the cellulose. They must then extract the plant's sugars and convert them into ethanol.

It has taken the industry decades of research and billions of dollars to develop the process.

The industry has promised in recent years that commercial production was near and the government continued to include cellulosic ethanol in its required renewable fuels standard each year, only to find the industry wasn't ready to make it in large quantities. Naysayers cast doubt on whether cellulosic ethanol was even possible.

"People said this would never happen, that it's not real so certainly to the outside world, to the government and lots of others it's proving that it's real," said Steve Hartig, general manager for licensing at Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels, which is building the plant. "It's a huge step but still a very early step."

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