A federally-backed facility in Iowa, US, has become the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the country to use corn waste.

The plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, is owned by a joint venture known as Project Liberty and it is between POET, an American biofuel maker and Royal DSM, Dutch chemical materials company. The project is designed to prove that ethanol can be produced commercially from waste agricultural material without taking away from food supplies or livestock feed.

“Some have called cellulosic ethanol a ‘fantasy fuel,’ but today it becomes a reality,” Jeff Broin, POET’s executive chairman, said in a statement. “With access now to new sources for energy, Project Liberty can be the first step in transforming our economy, our environment and our national security.”

Feike Sijbesma, chief executive officer of DSM, called the opening “an historical day in the development of plant-residue-based cellulosic ethanol as a viable, commercially attractive alternative to gasoline as we are moving from the fossil age to the bio-renewable age.”

At full production levels, Project Liberty will make 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year, which the Energy Department estimated would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 210,000 tonnes annually.

Project Liberty received about $100 million in both investments and research from the Energy Department.

“The Energy Department’s investments in projects like the Liberty bio-refinery are helping to bring innovative, cost-cutting biofuel technologies online and diversify our transportation fueling options,” Ernest Moniz, Energy Secretary said in a statement.

“Homegrown biofuels have the potential to further increase our energy security, stimulate rural economic development, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector,” Moniz added.

Project Liberty’s opening follows the launch last year of a project in Florida that uses vegetative, yard and municipal solid waste to make ethanol. That was the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency is required by law to mandate that a certain amount of cellulosic biofuel is mixed into traditional gasoline and diesel each year. With almost no commercial production of cellulosic fuels, the agency has had to keep the mandated volumes very low.

Folashade Olubayo
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