Federal officials are extending a $105 million loan guarantee for a new ethanol plant in Emmetsburg that will make the fuel out of corn cobs, stalks, leaves and husks. 

“This is an important step in our effort to move away from a debate of food-versus-fuel by using corn cobs and other agriculture waste material,” says U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu says that’s a bigger financial return for the farmer, too.

“The same amount of plant now produces considerably more ethanol,” Chu says.

POET, the company that’s launching the project, says up to 200 people will work on the plant’s construction, which will begin in August. Vilsack calls the project a huge milestone in producing ethanol from the entire plant rather than just the corn kernel.

“I think we’ve finally got to that point, perhaps the tipping point, of getting this off the ground,” Vilsack says.

About 40 people will work at the facility once it’s built. The opening is pegged for May of 2013 and total construction costs are expected to top $260 million.

POET already has a plant in Emmetsburg that produces ethanol the traditional way, with corn and this new ethanol production facility that will make the fuel out of the rest of the corn plant will be on the same property.

Vilsack and Chu held a news conference by telephone this morning to announce the federal backing for the project.  Listen: cappoet