Summit News

POET sees corn waste as ethanol feedstock

NEW YORK (Reuters) - POET, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, hopes to add facilities to make cellulosic fuel onto the majority of its 22 distilleries in coming years, the company’s CEO said on Monday.

For starters, POET is putting one cellulosic plant it calls Project Liberty onto an existing traditional ethanol distillery in Iowa that will make next-generation ethanol by 2011 from corn-cob waste.

“Our goal would be to replicate Liberty at a majority of our facilities throughout the country, long term,” Jeff Broin, the CEO of the South Dakota-based private ethanol producer, told the Reuters Global Agriculture and Biofuels Summit in a telephone conference call.

The search for new domestic feedstocks for making motor fuels in the United States is heating up as oil prices cling near recent record highs of over $100 a barrel. In addition, the traditional method of making U.S. ethanol from corn kernels is much less efficient than making the fuel from sugar cane, as is done in Brazil.

Cellulosic is a next-generation ethanol that uses microbes and other techniques to make fuel from the woody bits -- or cellulose -- of nonfood crops such as switchgrass and poplar trees. The fuel, which is not yet made commercially, can also be made from crop waste left over from making traditional ethanol.

It is considered to be milder on the environment because it doesn’t require additional inputs such as fertilizer. In addition, the fuel is unlikely to be blamed for helping to boost food costs.

But currently cellulosic fuel costs about twice as much to make as ethanol from traditional sources.

At Liberty, a project jointly funded by the company and the U.S. Department of Energy, POET plans to turn corn cobs into 31 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol.

POET currently has 22 ethanol distilleries and hopes to open several more by the end of the year. Broin would not give details on when the next cellulosic projects would take shape but said he wants to have Liberty up and running smoothly before building them.

The company has not yet explored trying to garner carbon credits from making cellulosic ethanol. Panda, a smaller U.S. ethanol producer, said on Monday it is researching selling carbon credits for its use of cow manure instead of fossil fuels to power its ethanol plant.

Many new fuel companies plan to make lower-carbon ethanol out of nonfood sources like grasses, trees and even municipal waste. But Broin said POET is going to stick with the feedstock it knows best.

“Our facilities are surrounded by a significant supply of cellulose ... we’ve chosen to focus on corn cobs,” he said.

(For summit blog:

Editing by Christian Wiessner