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Project LIBERTY still on track for start up

Plant will produce ethanol from corn stover

February 24, 2013
By LARRY KERSHNER, , Messenger News

EMMETSBURG - After walls have started going up for its receiving facility and the Palo Alto County Supervisors approving rezoning for the POET/DSM Project Liberty facility on the southeast edge of Emmetsburg, the project is still on schedule.

The $200 million plant is scheduled to begin production in late 2013. At peak capacity, the plant is expected to produce 25 million gallons of ethanol, all from corn stover - stalks, leaves and cobs.

Adam Wirt, a 10-year POET employee, has been working with the company's cellulosic research and development arm for the past five years. After months of planning and lessons learned through POET's pilot plant in Scotland, S.D., and after the March groundbreaking and grading, underground pipe-laying and foundation pouring, Wirt said, "We're now at the point to see the fun stuff happening."

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Dan Voight
While construction at the site of POET/DSM’s Project LIBERTY in Emmetsburg has been progressing over the past few months, a new phase has begun with the start of vertical construction of facilities. Precast concrete panels are being erected at the site by Lyndell Construction for the receiving facility. The nation’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant remains on schedule for completion this year.

POET announced last November the purchase of the needed technology to draw sugars from corn residue in a two-step process from ANDRITZ Inc., the American component of an Austrian company. The bases for the fermentation and saccharification tanks were poured last fall.

The ANDRITZ technology includes a vertical reactor, an interstage washer and then the continuous steam explosion technology to draw out available sugars from the cellulose material. It's those sugars - through Project LIBERTY's proprietary enzyme and yeast technologies - that get converted into ethanol.

Stover training

Fact Box

LIBERTY to create economic ripple


EMMETSBURG - The construction phase of POET/DSM Project Liberty facility will have a rippling effect across north Iowa, said Maureen Elbert, executive director of the Kossuth/Palo Alto Economic Development Corp.

The new cellulosic ethanol plant, the first scheduled to go into production in Iowa, "will have a huge impact of economic linkage with more housing developed, and with the daily needs of construction as workers flowing into the area.

"Those workers will have to eat somewhere," Elbert said.

She said the ripple effect will likely be felt to one extent or another in surrounding counties, naming Emmet and Pocahontas in particular.

"They're all going to feel the impacts," she said.

The presence of Project LIBERTY will also lead to new businesses, Elbert said. One Emmetsburg man, Eric Woodford, opened a baling equipment and supply business in Emmetsburg to meet the growing need for producers to bale stover.

Elbert said she expects other businesses to spring out of the advanced biofuel industry development in Palo Alto County.

Equally excited about the development is Myrna Heddinger, mayor of Emmetsburg. She said adding Project LIBERTY on the east side of town will add to the industrial agribusinesses strength of the town, along with POET's corn-based ethanol plant, AGP Processing Inc., and Kerber Milling Co.

In the short term, she said housing and meeting the daily needs of temporary workers will be a boon for the city, but said it will also aid farmers by providing another revenue stream for their farms - selling stover from their fields.

Meanwhile, in the 27-acre stockyard, 40 trucks are daily rolling in large round and large square bales of stover. POET is increasing the amount of biomass being delivered to the site, Wirt said, in an effort to fine-tune storage efforts and get farmers used to the biomass collection process.

Wirt said just as farmers are accustomed to hauling grain to an elevator, where a sample probe is taken of the grain, the bales will also be probed to determine moisture and dirt content.

Wirt said Project LIBERTY will require 300,000 tons of stover annually once the plant hits peak capacity.

"There's no one in the U.S. that collects that much," Wirt said, "so we are sourcing from local producers and large suppliers."

The stockyard, when full, will hold a mere three-week supply. He estimated the plant will require 70 to 90 trucks daily.

"If we collect every ounce of corn residue in Palo Alto County," Wirt said, "we wouldn't have enough." An acre can produce roughly a ton of stover.

He said POET is seeking contracts with producers in a 35-mile radius from the plant. "That's a million corn acres, so we'd need about one-third of that."

This is the third fall in which the company is learning how to handle and store both types of stover bales, working out the logistics of an intense number of daily shipments.

He said storing and handling challenges at this commercial-scale operation, is completely different than at the South Dakota pilot plant.

He said when the plant is finished experimenting with handling and storing bales some will go to additional storage research, some will be sold back to the livestock industry for bedding and feed, and some will go to the ethanol plant in Chancellor, S.D., where they'll be burned to provide power for that plant.

Once Project LIBERTY gets under way, Wirt said, the waste from stover processing will be burned on site to provide power for the plant.

"Any excess will go to the other plant," he said, referring to POET Biorefining, the corn-based ethanol plant next door.

"Stover in Iowa is a great start for us," Wirt said. "Cellulosic (ethanol) is a 50-state solution."

Future processing

When asked if the plant would be capable of processing other source materials, such as switchgrass,

Wirt said the company is determined to get stover processing down pat, and then look to expand into other source materials.

POET is rapidly expanding its technology in corn processing and extracting more products than distiller's dried grain for livestock feed.

The company extracts corn oil from the process and markets that to biodiesel plants, and has other projects on the drawing board for new products.

"People will see soon," Wirt said, "that these aren't just ethanol plants, but biorefineries.

"We're learning how to extract more products from corn."



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