The Future is Here

Quad County Corn Processors' state-of-the-art facility is now producing cellulosic ethanol from corn-kernel fiber. What was once a long shot has now become a reality, writes Bob Dinneen.
By Bob Dinneen | September 24, 2014

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Disney’s ethos is true today as cellulosic ethanol emerges from a long-shot idea into a full-fledged reality.

Cellulosic ethanol production came to Iowa this summer as Quad County Corn Processors produced ethanol from corn-kernel fiber at its bolt-on facility in Galva. I had the honor of being present as it debuted the completed Adding Cellulosic Ethanol (ACE) project, which enables Quad County Corn Processors to produce 6 percent more ethanol from the same kernel used to make conventional ethanol. 

The state-of-the-art facility is a prime example of next-generation biofuels being built on the solid foundation of conventional ethanol. In 2002, Quad County Corn Processors began conventional ethanol production. It cultivated its production process for more than 12 years and established the baseline technology needed to develop and refine its patented cellulosic technology. Its hard work paid off and it now has the technology to produce 2 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol.

Quad County Corn Processors isn’t the first—or the only—company to break onto the cellulosic scene this year as technological advancements are being made with other feedstocks as well. Poet-DSM is producing cellulosic ethanol using corn-crop residue at its facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa. DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol is working to create cellulosic ethanol from corn stover and Abengoa Bioenergy developed the technology to produce cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residue, dedicated energy crops and prairie grasses. Additional projects are under way in more than 20 states.

We are witnessing a turning point in next-generation biofuels as cellulosic ethanol begins entering the market. But we can’t stop here. The future of domestically produced cellulosic ethanol requires continued investment and investors require certainty.

The continued development and expansion of American-made advanced biofuels depends on the Renewable Fuel Standard. A stable RFS will give investors the certainty they need to develop additional cellulosic plants in the United States. Conversely, an unstable or weakened program will lead investors to move their projects abroad, sacrificing American jobs. The United States prides itself on innovation and advancement. Today, 67 percent of advanced biofuel ventures are based in the United States, ahead of China, Germany, France and Brazil. Americans must fight for a strong RFS so the United States can continue to lead the world in the advancement of next-generation biofuels.

It’s important to note that this milestone in cellulosic production didn’t come without setbacks. Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, once said that “the way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” We hit some stumbling blocks along the way but the reward is seeing these plants come online and realizing that the future of ethanol is here today.

It’s no longer just a dream. 

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO
Renewable Fuels Association