A gigantic ethanol factory under construction in northwest Iowa will employ a processing technique that’s much different from others in the state. Instead of using corn, the POET Biorefining plant in Emmetsburg will use cellulose, like corn cobs, stalks and leaves.

General Manager Steve Hartig says the plant’s about half complete. “We have a lot of the front end of the plant done, where we bring in biomass and we grind it and deliver it,” Hartig says. “The middle of the plant, we have a lot of huge tanks, 750,000-gallon tanks, where we’ll do the conversion of the cellulose to sugars and the sugars to ethanol.”

Hartig says the cellulosic ethanol plant has been an innovative project on which to work. “It’s exciting and challenging,” Hartig says. “We’re very confident this process will work but starting up a plant this big will be a challenge. This is really a new technology and a new opportunity for farmers in the Midwest.”

The goal for the first year is to produce 25-million gallons of ethanol, eventually ramping up to 55-million gallons a year, all from corn cobs, leaves, husks and stalks. “We gather up about a ton per acre,” Hartig says. “Either farmers can do it themselves or we have custom harvesters that can come in and do it for them. We’ve done a lot of work with Iowa State and other universities to really prove the sustainability of this, so that it’s something that can be done year after year and not harm the fields.”

Hartig says the huge plant will be the largest structure within a couple hundred miles of Emmetsburg. Operations should begin in early 2014.

(Reporting by Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)