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Construction of biomass plant moves ahead

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:11 PM

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Construction of the commercial-scale cellulosic bio-ethanol plant at Emmetsburg is "going fantastic," a company official said last week.

Project Liberty, a 20-million-gallon cellulosic bio-ethanol plant, is expected to begin production late next year. It will convert corn cobs, leaves, husk and stalks into a biofuel.

POET-DSM announced Oct. 24 that it has contracted with ANDRITZ to supply a two-step biomass treatment process for the commercial-scale cellulosic bio-ethanol plant under construction at Emmetsburg.

The ANDRITZ technology is a two-stage process that includes a vertical reactor, an interstage washer and continuous steam explosion technology to draw out available sugars from the cellulose material. Those sugars are then converted into ethanol.

The process is unique for this feedstock and this chemistry, said Jay Miele, vice president and general manager of ANDRITZ. All of the equipment has been used in other industries earlier, but it is arranged in a different way to convert biomass into sugars.

ANDRITZ is a machinery and system supplier to many industries throughout the world, Miele said. They often work in the pulp and paper industry and the hydroelectric industry.

They have sold processes similar to the one at Project Liberty to other companies that are using different feedstocks for different capacities, he said.

This specific process has been four years in the works, said Larry Ward, POET-DSM project manager. Technology teams from both companies have been working together to develop the process for this application, he said. It's part of a long-lasting relationship.

"We're happy to have them on-board," said James Moe, POET-DSM board member. "To say this has been quite a process is an understatement."

Miele added, "We look forward to successfully completing our part of the delivery for Project Liberty, and we are eager to work together on future projects."

ANDRITZ will provide start-up services and installation oversight of their process at Project Liberty. They will be there to see the process through to successful operation.

The POET-DSM cellulosic ethanol plant will produce not only ethanol, but also a co-product called lignin, which is a good energy source. Ward said it will be used on-site to provide energy for the POET-DSM plant and excess energy will be used at the co-located POET corn starch ethanol plant.

The feedstock for the cellulosic ethanol plant is contracted from area farmers who delivered stover, Ward said. They have contracted with all the farmers they need at this point, but more farmers will likely be contracted to deliver biomass as production increases.

POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels is a 50-50 joint venture between Royal DSM and POET.

The plant will use one ton of biomass per acre, Ward said, which amounts to about 20 percent to 25 percent of available biomass on that acre. The remaining 75 percent to 80 percent will be left in the field.

It's another revenue stream for farmers, Ward said.

The stover is baled and most is stored outside before being delivered for processing. It's not required to be shedded.

They have completed six or seven harvests with cobs, which has been a good learning experience for farmers in the Emmetsburg area, Ward said.

Project Liberty is the world's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. POET has a pilot plant in Scotland, S.D., that has been in operation since 2008.

The vision of POET-DSM is to share the technology with other biorefineries in the Midwest and eventually the rest of the nation and the world.