US welcomes first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant

Project Liberty, the US's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, located in Emmetsburg, Iowa, has been officially opened.

A joint venture of DSM and Poet, Project Liberty will convert 285,000 tonnes a year of biomass sourced from within a 45-mile radius of the plant into renewable fuel. Feedstocks will include baled corn cobs, leaves, husk and stalk.

The plant has now officially started-up, processing its first batch of biomass into cellulosic ethanol and is moving forward towards continuous operation.

The plant was formally opened in the presence of His Majesty Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands, US Security of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Under Secretary Michael Knotek of the Department of Energy, Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa.

At full capacity, it will convert 770 tonnes of biomass per day to produce ethanol at a rate of 20 million gallons per year. This represents a greenhouse gas reduction of 85-95% over petrol.

'Some have called cellulosic ethanol a "fantasy fuel", but today it becomes a reality,' says Jeff Broin, Poet founder and executive chairman. 'With access now to new sources of energy, Project Liberty can be the first step in transforming our economy, our environment and our national security.'

DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma adds: 'This is a historical day in the development of plant residue-based cellulosic ethanol as a viable, commercially attractive alternative to petrol and we are moving from the fossil age to the (bio) renewable-age.'

The project cost $275 million (€209 million) to develop, with the Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture and Iowa state playing important roles in bringing the technology to commercial scale. The DoE awarded a $100 million grant to support the costs of engineering and construction, as well as biomass collection and infrastructure. Iowa state contributed $20 million in grants for capital costs and feedstock logistics, while the USDA invested $2.6 million to support the delivery of more than 58,000 dry tonnes of corn crop residue, helping to establish the feedstock logistics network.

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