Iowa ethanol plant gets grant for bolt-on cellulosic facility

By Kris Bevill | June 22, 2011

Quad County Corn Processors, which operates a 30 MMgy ethanol facility in Galva, Iowa, was recently awarded a $1.45 million grant from the Iowa Power Fund to assist in constructing a bolt-on cellulosic production facility that could increase the plant’s yield by 2.5 MMgy. The total project cost is estimated at $6.5 million and could be complete by next fall if construction begins in the spring as planned, according to Quad County General Manager Delayne Johnson.

Johnson said Quad County has been developing its cellulosic conversion process for about two years. The technology will utilize the product remaining from the starch ethanol process, essentially what would otherwise become distillers grains, to instead produce cellulosic ethanol, high-value feed products and corn oil, he said. The company is awaiting patent approval for its technology so Johnson was unable to offer many specific details, other than to say the cellulosic production process will be fermentation-based and unlike other conversion processes.

Kristin Hanks, program planner for the Iowa Power Fund, said Quad County’s project was appealing to the Power Fund board because it takes a slightly different approach to cellulosic ethanol production than the other second-generation projects in the fund’s portfolio, such as Poet LLC’s Project Liberty and Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC’s Project Blackhawk. “This is a smaller project that will be located at an existing ethanol facility and provides another pathway to get both more cellulosic ethanol and provide additional revenue streams,” she said. “It was an interesting project for the board from that perspective.”

Johnson describes the project as being bolt-on in that the cellulosic technology will be housed in a separate building, but the two processes will be interconnected using a series of pipes. “We will build another building, but it doesn’t have to take out the existing process and put a bunch of new things in,” he said. “The existing process stays the same and basically we’re able to bolt on another process right next to it.”

Aside from the grant just received from the Iowa Power Fund, Quad County has previously received a $150,000 research and development grant from Iowa’s economic development department, according to Johnson. Quad County is responsible for providing the $5 million necessary to complete the cellulosic project, but Johnson said the company will apply for grants from the U.S. DOE and USDA. The company is also currently seeking partners for commercialization.

Ultimately, Quad County’s plan is to market the cellulosic technology to producers in Iowa and around the world. If this is accomplished, the impact to the nation’s cellulosic production capabilities would be significant. Johnson estimates that 1 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol could be produced just by adding the technology to the existing starch-based ethanol facilities in the U.S. “I think it will make sense economically for other producers to use this process as we develop it and prove it out on a full-scale basis,” Johnson said. “We firmly believe that this can make a huge impact on the whole RFS2 [renewable fuel standard] by getting significant gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the marketplace.”