The world has seemingly moved on from biofuels like ethanol, which was once hailed as the panacea to America’s alternative energy woes. Many biofuel companies have gone belly up or, at best, continue to muddle along with small-scale pilot plants after backlash from former supporters swept on in the “Food vs. Fuel” debate.
Even as electric cars and plug-in hybrids dominate alternative fuel headlines, POET-DSM has quietly begun large-scale production of its patented cellulosic ethanol at its “Liberty Plant” in Emmetsburg, Iowa, reports Media Matters. The plant will take 570 million pounds of leftover plant waste and convert it into 20 million gallons of usable ethanol fuel per year when it reaches full production, eventually ramping production up to 25 million gallons per year.
While that’s but a small drop in the bucket of America’s daily oil consumption, critics have called POET’s cellulosic ethanol a non-existent fairy tale. The prospect of turning otherwise useless plant waste into a cleaner-burning fuel is a tempting one, and an independent study by Argonne National Labs estimates that POET’s cellulosic ethanol emits 96% fewer emissions than the fuel it replaces. The waste will all be locally sourced from within 45 miles of the plant, with many farmers producing about one ton of agricultural waste per acre each year. That’s more than enough biomass to keep the POET plant operating at full capacity.
Ethanol hasn’t gotten a lot of love these days, with lawsuits seeking (and failing) to halt the sale of E15 and former allies turning against it as new studies revealed it wasn’t as green or clean as proponents had suggested despite widespread consumer support. POET has been working hard for years at making cellulosic ethanol viable and visible in America.
Can POET changes the hearts and minds of alt-fuel fans with its waste-based ethanol?