A new “cellulosic” ethanol plant is open in central Iowa. The operation will convert the “stover” from corn fields — the corn stalks and corn cobs left over after the harvest — into ethanol. Once it reaches full capacity, the plant near Nevada will produce 30 million gallons ethanol each year.
Terraun Jones, the operations manager at the plant, says he was impressed with the creativity of area farmers as they responded to the company’s call for bales of corn stover.
“We’e going to be able to harvest the material, while not compromising the soil and being able to grow the product,” he says. “Then, we’re going to take a year’s worth of production — 375,000 tons — we’re going to gather it in about four months and we’re going to store it and we’re going to bring it to the plant in a safe and sustainable way.”
Bales of corn stover have been in storage for the past two seasons with fresh stacks from this year’s harvest currently dotting nearby fields. DuPont got more than $50 million in federal funds to bring the technology to the marketplace. William Feehery, the president of DuPont’s Industrial Bioscience division, says the company is already licensing the cellulosic technology in China and has talks underway in Europe.
“The interest in the United States is a little bit stalled,” he says. “I think the uncertainty in the RFS has caused some pause or some concern about making these investments.”
The Renewable Fuels Standard calls on federal officials to set an annual target for ethanol production in the U.S., but the decision has not been made for this year or for next year. U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack predicts an expansion of demand for biofuels in the U.S. as higher blends of ethanol become more available.
“It’s a great day for DuPont Pioneer,” Vilsack said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “It’s a great day for Iowa to have yet another cellulosic plant open and I think it indicates a strong commitment to the biofuels industry and I’m very bullish on the future for biofuels.”
Vilsack also predicts growing demand for U.S.-produced ethanol in places like Brazil, India and China.
“Both India and China have not only have a tremendous number of consumers and vehicles, but they also have air quality issues that a cleaner burning fuel,” Vilsack said.
Once the plant in Nevada is running at full capacity, it will be the largest cellulosic ethanol plant in the world.
(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer and Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)