Prototype corn cob harvesting technology is being tested at an ethanol plant near Emmetsburg. Project Liberty is the nation’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant and it will rely on farmers supplying corn cobs and other field waste.
Scott Weishaar the director of business development for Poet, says they’re working through the return on investment for farmers, but they feel it will be a sustainable system. "What we really want to be able to do is to show the data — here’s the fuel consumption, here’s the slowdown in time, here’s the capital cost — so there can be a true business case decision," Weishaar says. "These farmers are very knowledgeable and just like any business, they will ask those questions to make sure that it’s a long-term and sustainable model."
He says when the plant ramps up to its goal, thousands of acres of corn cobs and stover will be needed from area farmers. Weishaar says, "We hope for several dozen as quickly as next year and then as we come on-line with Project Liberty, that number will grow exponentially to where we’ll need three or 400,000 acres of corn cobs when we’re at production." He says the economic impact from the Emmetsburg plant could range from 25-to-35 million dollars per year.
The plant is a joint investment of POET, the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Iowa. The plant aims to produce 125-million gallons of ethanol a year, 25-million just from corn cobs.