Good News, Bad News

Farmers harvest biomass, delivery on hold
By Holly Jessen | December 12, 2011

First, the good news. In preparation for cellulosic ethanol production at the Poet Biorefining ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, farmers harvested 61,000 bone dry tons of corn crop residue in the form of bales of corn cobs and light stover. That represents an increase of 15 contracts and 5,000 tons from the 2010 harvest, Poet says.

Now, the bad news. Nearly 100 farmers are awaiting word on the status of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program before actually delivering the biomass bales. As of the end of November, it was unknown if BCAP would be included in the 2012 federal budget.

Poet is gearing up for cellulosic ethanol production at Project Liberty, a 25 MMgy ethanol plant scheduled to start producing in 2013. Grading and construction of a second weigh station is under way. Heavy construction will begin in 2012. The company says it will need 285,000 tons of biomass yearly to operate the cellulosic ethanol plant. “Biomass harvesting is moving along as planned, and I’m confident we’ll have a large and consistent supply of corn cobs and light stover once Project Liberty is running,” Poet founder and CEO Jeff Broin says. “Both the farmers and Poet Biomass personnel have learned a lot in the last few years about best practices in biomass harvesting, and that experience will pay dividends.”

By harvesting biomass before Project Liberty is operating, Poet hopes to streamline the process to harvest, store and deliver biomass. The company plans to use about 300 to 400 bales for biomass storage research at Poet’s 22-acre stackyard and may use another 1,500 bales for additional research. Some of the harvested biomass will be used as feedstock at the company’s pilot cellulosic ethanol plant in Scotland, S.D. “Research is paramount to what we’re doing in Emmetsburg,” Project Liberty Director Jim Sturdevant says. “Not only do we have to keep a consistent flow of biomass to the facility, we need to ensure that farmers know how to harvest in a manner that maintains soil health.”  —Holly Jessen