Plant has groundbreaking event for bolt-on cellulosic technology

By Holly Jessen | July 30, 2013

The smallest ethanol plant in Iowa held a groundbreaking ceremony July 29 for a new bolt-on cellulosic technology that will allow the 35 MMgy the corn-ethanol facility to produce traditional grain-based ethanol as well as 2 MMgy cellulosic ethanol. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to produce some of the first cellulosic gallons here in the United States,” Delayne Johnson, general manager of Quad County Corn Processors told Ethanol Producer Magazine.

Construction is expected to be completed by April 2014. The ethanol plant, which is located in Galva, Iowa, will go from 35 full-time employees to 40 employees, with the addition of cellulosic ethanol production. Another 55 to 75 jobs will be created during the construction phase. Total investment in the project will be $8.5 million, which includes a $4.5 million investment from the USDA and the U.S. DOE, through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative. The company also received a grant from the Iowa Power Fund.

The new patent-pending cellulosic process, Adding Cellulosic Ethanol, was a project Travis Brotherson, plant engineer, worked on for the last four years. Two years ago the company started working to take it from pilot- and demonstration-scale to full-scale instillation at the plant, Johnson said.

Johnson described the ethanol production process as starting with the traditional grain-based fermentation process, followed by a trip through the bolt-on facility for another round of fermentation for cellulosic ethanol production from corn kernel fiber. The U.S. EPA recently closed a comment period on a proposed rule that would add corn kernel fiber to the list of qualifying cellulosic feedstocks as a crop residue. 

ACE will increase ethanol yield by 6 percent and boost corn oil extraction by about 300 percent. The technology will also result in an improved, 40 percent higher protein distillers grain coproduct that will actually be more similar to corn gluten meal. “This is value-added agriculture at its best,” Johnson said in a press release.

A large group of people gathered for the ground breaking ceremony, including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who spoke about how the people of Quad County had been stepping up for years. “You put your capital on the line, you put your ideas on the line, and you put your hard work on the line,” he said. Letters of congratulations were also read from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.

Representatives of the American Coalition for Ethanol and the Renewable Fuels Association also spoke at the event. Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE, pointed out that the facility will likely be the first grain-ethanol plant to produce both corn and cellulosic ethanol at the same facility. “Some of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world have tried to perfect and commercialize the process of converting cellulose to biofuel,” he said. “But it should come as no surprise that the 35 employees and 353 farmer shareholders of Quad County Corn Processors will be one of the first to do it, because some of the sharpest minds of this industry are the innovative and hard-working people in rural America.”

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO, said milestones like the Quad County groundbreaking demonstrate the U.S. ethanol industry’s barrier-breaking innovation and is further proof of the success of the RFS. “I applaud Quad County for proving that the first and second generations of ethanol are literally ‘bolted’ together,” he said. “The future is now and the present is future. Cellulosic production will soon begin side-by-side with conventional ethanol.”

Also present was Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. “It's exciting to see one of the smaller ethanol plants in Iowa adding some forward-looking technology," he said. "This new bolt-on process will greatly improve many efficiencies at this plant, ultimately reducing the amount of energy used to produce a gallon of ethanol.”