Pilot-scale Poet facility starts up smoothly

By Anna Austin | January 12, 2009
Web exclusive posted Jan. 14, 2009, at 10:28 a.m. CST

Following the much-touted start-up of Poet LLC's cellulosic ethanol pilot-scale plant at Scotland, S.D., Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin reported on the facility's progress and unveiled the company's plans for 2009 and beyond during a grand opening press conference Jan. 12.

The 20,000-gallon-per-year facility, which is collocated with a 9 MMgy starch ethanol plant, utilizes corn cobs as a feedstock. The $8 million plant commenced operations in late November.

"So far, the facility is performing above our expectations," Broin said. "Within the first 30 days of operation, we had produced more than 1,000 gallons and were able to replicate the results we had achieved in our labs."

Broin said Poet will now evaluate things the company can't do in the lab, such as how the biomass flows through the process. "We are learning new things every day," he said.

Poet's cellulosic plans include reusing a byproduct of cellulosic production to power both the cellulosic process and the integrated grain ethanol process, according to Broin. "We will soon be starting up an anaerobic digester in Scotland (S.D.) so that we can test the utilization of waste streams in alternative energy production," he said. "We are also looking at ways to optimize the process so that we can minimize our energy usage."

Broin believes Poet's goal of having its process ready for commercialization by 2011 is achievable, a $200 million endeavor dubbed Project Liberty. Project Liberty is a joint venture between Poet, the U.S. DOE and the state of Iowa to transform a 50 MMgy grain-to-ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, into a 125 MMgy integrated corn-to-ethanol and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery. Corn fiber and cobs will be used as feedstock to produce 25 million gallons of the facility's total capacity.

When asked of possibly acquiring idled or bankrupt ethanol plants, Broin said Poet would carefully consider opportunities.

Although confident the industry will be able to meet the U.S. government mandate of using 100 million gallons of renewable fuels by 2010, Broin noted, that as any new technology does, it will take time to further develop.

Poet currently has 26 ethanol production facilities in the U.S., and annually produces and markets more than 1.54 billion gallons of ethanol.