New USDA Report Validates Sustainability of Biomass

Experts from Iowa State University and the United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA) have dtermined that after five years of soil nutrient data gathered at POET-DSM’s Project Liberty site are consistent with more than 500 site-years of additional soil research. The research team has concluded that the results show that biomass harvesting, which is now being done in the Emmetsburg, Iowa area, is consistent with proper farm management.

POET-DSM Project Liberty May 2014“Successful deployment of cellulosic bioenergy production operations such as the POET-DSM ‘Project Liberty’ program near Emmetsburg, Iowa can strengthen rural economies, help ensure energy security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions without contributing to soil degradation – another global challenge,” said Dr. Douglas Karlen with USDA-ARS.

POET-DSM is currently finishing construction on its 25 million gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant located in Emmetsburg, Iowa. That plant will use crop residue – corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk – to produce renewable fuel. Since 2008, POET-DSM has commissioned soil research from Karlen and Dr. Stuart Birrell (Iowa State University BioSystems and Agricultural Engineering Department) to determine changes in soil quality under different biomass harvest scenarios. That data has now been aggregated with 500+ years of additional soil data from four separate sites.

Karlen said fields that would be good candidates for biomass harvesting have qualities including

  • Slopes of less than 3%
  • Consistent grain yield histories of 175 bu/acre
  • Good nutrient management plans with soil test records

At a 1 ton per acre harvest rate, which POET-DSM advocates, Nitrogen and Phosphorus applications should not need to change, but Potassium should be monitored. Karlen also said that by monitoring natural variability within a particular field, “even more stover may be harvested from some areas in a sustainable manner.” These recommendations are in line with previous recommendations from Karlen and Birrell for the Emmetsburg area.

“We’ve been working with farmers for almost eight years now to ensure that biomass harvesting is done right,” said POET Biomass Director Adam Wirt. “We’ve developed an EZ Bale harvest system that maximizes our cob content and minimizes stalk removal. It’s a quick, clean and effective method for farmers to get more revenue from their fields while managing what is often excess crop residue.”

Iowa Gov Signs Biodiesel, Ethanol Measures into Law

irfa-poetIowa Governor Terry Branstad has signed into law measures seen as good for ethanol and biodiesel in his state, a move much welcomed in an area that is a major player in the renewable fuel market. Branstad was joined by other state dignitaries, as well as officials from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) and ethanol producer POET, which hosted the signing of Senate File 2344 at its Coon Rapids, Iowa refinery today. The new law extends the state’s biodiesel production tax credit and enhances the state’s E15 retailer tax credit.

“I’m proud to sign this renewable fuels bill that received such wide, bipartisan support from the entire Iowa legislature and promotes E15, biodiesel and bio-butanol” stated Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. “I have been a staunch supporter of protecting Iowa jobs and Iowa motorists’ access to cleaner, locally-produced renewable fuels, and this bill does exactly that.”

“Today is a great day for Iowa’s renewable fuels community,” stated IRFA Policy Director Grant Menke. “We commend Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, and the entire Iowa legislature for standing beside renewable fuels, protecting Iowa jobs, and safeguarding consumer access to low-cost, homegrown biofuels.”

“We are excited Gov. Branstad selected our facility to mark the officially signing of this important bill,” said Bill Howell, General Manager of POET Biorefining – Coon Rapids. “The state of Iowa continues to be very supportive of the biofuels industry and this bill is yet another example of that support. Here at POET, we look forward to continued expansion of E15 throughout the state and nation, which will allow consumers to enjoy additional options at the pump.”

The law also defines biobutanol as a renewable fuel option for Iowans.

EPA and USDA Dispute Corn Stover Study

Two federal agencies joined the biofuels industry last week in seriously questioning the results of a University of Nebraska study that claims negative greenhouse gas emissions impacts in using corn stover for ethanol production.

corn_stover03 Photo: USDOE-NRELA statement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Liz Purchia about the report noted problems with “hypothetical assumption that 100 percent of corn stover in a field is harvested” which she calls “an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices. As such, it does not provide useful information relevant to the lifecycle GHG emissions from corn stover ethanol. EPA’s lifecycle analysis assumes up to 50 percent corn stover harvest. EPA selected this assumption based on data in the literature and in consultation with agronomy experts at USDA to reflect current agricultural practices.”

During a forum on climate change right after the study hit the headlines last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also pointed out that it is based on a false premise. “The study started with an assumption about the way corn stover would be removed from the land. The problem with the assumption is no farmer in the country would actually take that much crop residue,” Vilsack said. “It’s not what’s happening on the ground. If you make the wrong assumption, you’re going to come up with the wrong conclusions.”

Work done by Dr. Douglas Karlen with the USDA Agricultural Research Service was cited several times in the UNL study. In response to questions from POET-DSM, which is using corn stover as feedstock at a plant in Iowa, Karlen said the study “makes unrealistic assumptions and uses citations out of context to reinforce the authors’ viewpoint.”

According to Dr. Karlen, the research fails to differentiate between responsible biomass removal and “excessive” biomass removal, projecting a removal rate of approximately 75% across the entire Corn Belt.

“Harvesting 75% of all corn stover produced in the 10 Corn Belt states is unrealistic, far greater than any projections made by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in their projections for developing a sustainable bioenergy industry, and would certainly result in the depletion of soil organic matter.”

POET-DSM Joins Advanced Ethanol Council

aeclogoPOET-DSM Advanced Biofuels is the newest member to join the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC).

“As cellulosic ethanol becomes a growing force in fulfilling biofuel requirements in the U.S., it’s important for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels to work with other industry leaders to help shape policies that ensure consumer understanding of – and access to – its environmental, economic and energy-security benefits,” said Steve Hartig, General Manager – Licensing for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels.

The joint venture between ethanol production company POET and Royal DSM, a Netherlands-based bio science company, is nearing completion of a 25 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol biorefinery called Project LIBERTY, located in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The technology developed for the facility is available for licensing to develop other low-carbon, cellulosic ethanol production plants.

“As a key player in the industry that has the proven know-how to scale up its advanced technology to commercial scale, POET-DSM is a strong, strategic addition to the Council’s ranks as cellulosic ethanol moves from the development stage to full-scale commercial production in 2014,” said Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the AEC.

EPA Proposal Pulls the Rug on Advanced Biofuels

Advanced-Biofuels-Association-LogoAccording to the Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sticks with the 2.2 billion gallons in the final rule, the agency will pull the rug out from underneath the growing advanced biofuel industry.

This was in response to the EPA’s proposed 2014 fuel for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that proposed the target for advanced biofuels at 2.2 billion gallons with a range from as low as 2 billion gallons and as high as 2.51 billion gallons. The 2.2 billion gallon target represents a 20 percent cut from the 2013 level and a disheartening 1.55 billion gallon reduction from the volume as outlined by statue.

“Innovative companies have responded to the challenge of producing cleaner, low-carbon fuels by investing a collective $14 billion in the development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels. However, today’s proposal reveals that EPA might still deliver a devastating blow to this nascent sector and a victory for the oil industry by cutting the volume requirements for advanced biofuels. Such a move will chill future investments necessary to produce large-scale quantities of renewable fuels that cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared to gasoline,” said McAdams.

McAdams explained that RFS compliance is tracked by assigning renewable identification numbers (or RINs) to each ethanol-equivalent gallon of biofuel. “ABFA conservatively estimates that our industry will generate at least 3.5 billion RINs in 2013 that qualify as advanced biofuels, exceeding this year’s target of 2.75 billion advanced RINs by at least 750 million gallons. To continue to support new advanced biofuel production, EPA should set the 2014 advanced biofuel target at 3.75 billion gallons as contemplated by statute. This target can be met and exceeded by current production plus carry-over RINs.”

Anything less than requiring 3.75 billion gallons from advanced biofuels in 2014, he noted, would be a step backwards from the Obama administration’s commitment to address climate change. He also stressed that ensuring the success of the advanced biofuels industry is his top concern and as such will actively engage in the comment period.

As McAdams pointed out, companies still in the development and construction phases will also be significantly affected. James Moe, Chairman of the Board for POET-DSM POET DSM logoAdvanced Biofuels, whose cellulosic ethanol plant is under construction and set to begin full operations by mid-year 2014 noted that next year, for the first time in history, the U.S. will produce meaningful volumes of cellulosic ethanol.

“With a number of new plants coming online including POET-DSM’s Project LIBERTY, we can finally say that commercial cellulosic ethanol production has arrived,” he said. Continue reading

Project LIBERTY Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Update

POETplant1A 25 million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant is on track to start cranking out the advanced biofuel early next year. Officials with POET-DSM Advanced Biofuel’s Project LIBERTY updated progress on the refinery in Northwest Iowa during the Platts Biofuels and Chemicals conference.

“We had a great summer for construction and have been able to stay on track to start producing cellulosic bio-ethanol early next year,” [Steve Hartig, General Manager – Licensing for POET-DSM] said. “It’s impressive to see this technology coming to life in Emmetsburg.”

[The plant] will be one of the first plants of its kind in the nation. It will use cob bales – made up of corn cobs, leaves, husks and some stalk – to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic bio-ethanol annually, later ramping up to 25 million gallons.

Hartig said the progress to date includes:

Biomass receiving and grinding building is complete and biomass processing equipment is nearly installed.
Saccharification, fermentation tanks are complete.
Equipment installation and pipe work is ongoing.
Cooling tower construction is underway.
Underground utilities are nearing completion.

About 300 workers are on the site daily, making preparations for the early 2014 start.

The most recent construction photos are available on POET-DSM’s Flickr site.

Agronomic Data Shows Viability of Biomass Harvesting

The Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo is in full swing in Omaha, Nebraska with several hundred industry members on hand for the event. Today POET-DSM, an event sponsor, has announced that according to the latest data from researchers with Iowa State University and the United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA) harvesting crop residue for cellulosic ethanol production is consistent with good farm management.

Biomass Harvest for Project LIBERTY

The work was commissioned by POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels to ensure the sustainability of the joint venture’s plans to build cellulosic ethanol plants and license technology to producers in the U.S. and abroad. The research, led by Dr. Doug Karlen with USDA and Dr. Stuart Birrell with ISU, was conducted in fields near Emmetsburg, Iowa, the site of Project LIBERTY, POET-DSM’s 20 million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant currently under construction. The facility will use corn-crop residue – cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk – to produce renewable fuel. It is expected to come online in early 2014.

Now in its fifth year, the research evaluated the possible effects of biomass removal on soil nutrient levels and grain yields over various rates of removal. POET-DSM’s proposed rate of removal is approximately 1 ton per acre, which is 20-25 percent of the above-ground biomass.

“In summary, both grain yields and soil nutrient levels were not significantly affected by stover harvest treatments,” Birrell said in a research summary.

Fields with yields above 175 bushels per acre could remove up to 2 tons of biomass per acre, according to Birrell and Karlen. Based on the data, POET-DSM recommends no changes in nitrogen or phosphorous applications, due to residue removal. Some biomass providers could benefit from adding a small amount of potassium. Continue reading

California Court Rules Against LCFS

A California appeals court this week overturned a regulation implementing the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

poetCalifornia’s Fifth District Court of Appeal issued its decision in POET, LLC v. California Air Resources Board (ARB) on Monday, ruling for POET on every one of its substantive challenges and reversing the decision of the Superior Court affirming the LCFS. The Court also ruled that ARB must, among other things, re-evaluate the LCFS’s overall environmental impacts, and allow public comment on several controversial issues including the carbon intensity values attributed to ethanol based on the theory of indirect land use change.

South Dakota-based ethanol producer POET issued the following statement about the ruling:

“We are pleased the court recognized the fundamental flaws in ARB’s process for implementing the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The Court ruled in our favor on every challenge we raised on appeal, each of which went to a different problem with the approval process. The Court has also made clear that ARB must re-evaluate the LCFS’s recognized potential to increase smog-forming pollutants, recirculate its environmental document evaluating the impacts of the LCFS and, significantly, allow public comment on several controversial issues, including the carbon intensity values attributed to land use changes.”

The Court ruling allows ARB to continue to enforce the LCFS regulation at the moment, but prohibits the agency from ramping up enforcement of the regulation beyond the current 2013 levels

POET-DSM Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Ready in ’14

The POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels’ first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant is on track to start in 2014. The announcement for the plant was made at the recent Fuel Ethanol Workshop (FEW) in St. Louis, Mo., where Wade Roby from POET took part in a panel discussion.

FEW13-poetdsm-hartigSteve Hartig, General Manager for POET-DSM, talked with Joanna and said Project LIBERTY, currently under construction and co-located with POET’s grain ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, will turn bales of corn cobs, leaves, husks and some stalk into 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol each year, with plans to move that amount up to 25 million gallons.

“We’re in the middle of construction, so we have a lot of the concrete done, the large biomass building, a lot of the tanks for the fermentation are up and running, and basically we’re on schedule to start up end of first quarter, second quarter next year,” Steve said.

He said they’ve been working with the local farmers over the past five years on how to collect and bring in the corn stover biomass, bringing in 70,000 tons last year and expecting to bring in 120,000 tons this year and up to 250,000 tons next year. Steve points out that the biomass can be stored out in the weather for at least a year, and he defends against criticisms that they are taking valuable nutrients off the field.

“The fields with the high productivity, high-yield corn crops, you have about five tons of stover per acre that’s left on the field after the harvest. We’re taking about one ton of that,” and citing their work with Iowa State University, he said that taking some stover off the field is actually good for it. “If we can take a bit more we will, but we’ll do it slow, steady and in a conservative way, working closely with the farmers and local universities.”

Steve said they’re building this plant together with DSM, and that’s the model they’re carrying forward – taking the technology to other companies and partnering with existing facilities, especially corn ethanol plants, and he believes they could even take the technology internationally.

Finally, he concluded that they have learned a lot building this plant and look forward to their next project going up next year. And they’re sticking with cellulosic ethanol.

“Cellulosic ethanol is real. It’s been called the ‘fictional fuel,’ [but] big companies like ours are putting a lot of commitment to it.”

Listen to more of Joanna’s interview with Steve here: Steve Hartig, General Manager for POET-DSM

Governors Tell Congress to Support RFS

governor-biofuelsThe Governor’s Biofuels Coalition met in Sioux Falls Wednesday and sent a letter to members of Congress in support of the Renewable Fuels Standard.

The letter from the 30 governors represented by the Coalition, led by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, urges Congress to stay the course on the RFS. “As governors who see firsthand the impact that the RFS has had on our states, we urge you to reject any modifications to the RFS,” the letter reads. “By intentionally using misinformation, biofuels opponents damage the nation’s economy, environment, and energy security.”

The governors’ meeting was held at the headquarters of POET and CEO Jeff Lautt says Governor Branstad is a strong defender of biofuels. “He’s seen first hand the success of what this industry’s done for America on the energy side but also what it’s done on the ag side,” said Lautt.

The Iowa Biodiesel Board and Iowa Renewable Fuels Association both praised their governor’s leadership and appreciate the strong stand taken by the coalition to support the RFS.

POET Biorefining-Macon Suspends Production Due to Drought

POET Biorefining – Macon is temporarily suspending plant operations effective Feb. 1 due primarily to a lack of available local corn caused in part by last summer’s drought. All of the plant’s 44 team members will remain employed at their current hours. Many will assist in installation of the approximately $14.5 million in upgrades to the plant that will occur during the down time. The plant will also continue to purchase corn for future use as it is available. There is currently no timeline for resuming production.

POET Biorefining Macon EmployeesThe biorefinery started operation in 2000 ad is located in one of the worst-hit areas of last season’s drought, leaving it unable to source corn locally or bring corn in from other areas at a competitive price.

“Macon has been a very successful plant within the POET network,” said POET CEO Jeff Lautt. “Once conditions improve, I know the plant and its hard-working team members will continue to make POET-Biorefining – Macon a star.”

The plant is in the early stages of construction on a number of upgrades that will improve profitability further once production resumes. Those include:

  • Voilà corn oil technology, which will provide an additional product for new revenue
  • Full BPX technology, POET’s patented “no-cook” process that significantly reduces heat/energy use
  • A new control system
  • A new, more efficient evaporator
  • A new administration building and scale house

Board President John Eggleston added, “We’re all excited to see these upgrades taking effect. It’s investments like these that will ensure continued long-term success for the plant.”

POET Producing Corn Oil at 25 Biorefineries

viola-logoNearly all of POET’s ethanol plants have now producing corn oil: 25 of their 27 plants have installed corn oil technology bringing its total capacity to approximately 250,000 tons per year, enough feedstock to produce 68 million gallons of biodiesel annually. Branded Voilà, POET has been selling the corn oil since January 2011 with its ethanol plant in Hudson, South Dakota the first.

“Having a more diverse portfolio of products has been a benefit for POET, particularly when ethanol margins are challenging,” said POET CEO Jeff Lautt. “Expanding our product line is an important part of our strategy for growth.”

According to Lautt, one of POET’s four four Ingreenuity goals is to increase production of bio-based products, and corn oil is playing an important role in reaching that goal.

“There’s a bio-based solution to so much of what petroleum supplies today. It’s exciting for me to see POET playing a large part in providing those solutions,” added Lautt.

Obama Wins. Did Renewable Energy Win?

President Barack Obama has been elected to a second term to lead the United States. While not clairvoyant,  I suspect the defining turn in support for Obama was the convergence of hurricane Sandy and Mayor Michael Bloomberg throwing his support behind Obama with the statement that he is the climate change President. If he is in fact the president for climate change, this should mean positive things for renewable energy. But for this to happen, all of our national and state leaders will need to be climate change leaders.

On the heels of the President Obama’s winning speech, many in the renewable energy industry, such as the National Corn Growers Association, lauded his win and called for the continuation of the path toward change that would lead to energy independence.

“The ethanol industry appreciates the support of President Obama and his administration over the last four years and we look forward to furthering our work with them, continuing to produce a cleaner burning, home-grown renewable fuel,” said Tom Buis, CEO for Growth Energy. He added that his organization is looking forward to working with the president, his administration and Congress in a bipartisan manner to help expand access for biofuels.

POET’s CEO Jeff Lautt said in a statement that his company felt that the role of renewable energy was evident throughout the election and he is optimistic for the future of the biofuels industry.  “As President Obama noted this fall, ‘Biofuels are an important part of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home.’ I look forward to continued support for the Renewable Fuel Standard to ensure that more and more drivers have access to clean fuel produced here in the United States,” he added.

It’s going to take more than industry associations and alternative energy companies to work for success. It will also take consumer organizations rising up from local communities to spur change and the first step in this is better energy and climate education for all Americans (yes, our country is full of energy and environmental illiterate citizens). There’s a lot to do. Let’s get back to work.

POET-DSM Partners with ANDRITZ

POET-DSM has signed on the International Technology Group ANDRITZ, to supply a two-step biomass treatment process for the commercial-scale cellulosic bioethanol plant under construction in Emmetsburg, Iowa known as Project LIBERTY. The technology was designed to help draw out available sugar in the collected biomass, in this case corn stover, corn cobs, and husks, so it can be converted into cellulosic ethanol.

The ANDRITZ technology is a two-stage process that includes a vertical reactor, an interstage washer and then the continuous steam explosion technology (Advanced SteamEx process) to draw out available sugars from the cellulose material. It’s those sugars combined with Project LIBERTY’s enzyme and yeast technologies – that will get converted into ethanol.

“We’ve been working with ANDRITZ for over four years, collaborating on the development for a treatment process that aligns with our conversion technology development here at POET-DSM, and we selected them to provide that treatment process,” said James Moe, POET-DSM board member. “We’re happy to have them on-board. To say this has been quite a process is an understatement.”

Jay Miele, VP and General Manager with ANDRITZ Inc. added, “Our design teams have been working closely together over the past four years to optimize our Advanced Steam-Ex pretreatment technology for Project LIBERTY. POET-DSM’s dedication to becoming a leader in cellulosic bio-ethanol is quite evident to us. We look forward to successfully completing our part of the delivery for Project LIBERTY, and we are eager to work together on future projects.”

Constructed is scheduled to be complete in late 2013. In preparation, local farmers are increasing the amount of biomass delivered to the site in an effort to fine-tune storage efforts and refine the biomass collection process. Harvest goals for this fall were to collect nearly 85,000 tons of corn cobs and light stover. Eventually, the biorefinery will need nearly 285,000 tons of biomass per year once at full production capacity of 20 million gallons per year.

DF Cast: Fuels America to Combat RFS Waiver Talk

A new coalition forms to fight back against the push against the Renewable Fuels Standard… a fight prompted by the drought and the pressure the drought is causing on the most common feedstock for ethanol, corn. During a recent news conference, former congressman and now CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization… or BIO… Jim Greenwood was one of the leaders of the new coalition dubbed Fuels America, a diverse group of interests, including renewable fuels, national security, renewable energy and other stakeholders. Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the National Corn Growers Association, BIO and the Advanced Ethanol Council are part of Fuels America, as well as several biofuel companies, such as DuPont, POET and Novozymes.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, listen in as Greenwood is joined by Novozymes president Adam Monroe, Marion (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce president Pam Hall, and ZeaChem president and CEO Jim Imbler who make the case for preserving the RFS.

You can listen to the Domestic Fuel Cast here: Domestic Fuel Cast

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