It’s Out There

Study shows ample stover, straw available for cellulosic production
By Kris Bevill | August 15, 2011

Inbicon A/S leaders are not surprised when investors say they can’t imagine widespread cellulosic ethanol production. The sheer scope of an operation that requires 200,000 acres of anything can be difficult to envision, but that’s what it could take to supply a cellulosic ethanol facility such as Inbicon’s with the corn stover needed to produce large-scale amounts of fuel. If wheat straw is the feedstock of choice, that acreage number goes up even further. So in order to prove to investors this type of project is not only feasible, but absolutely doable, Inbicon conducted an extensive crop study and biomass research project to show just how much biomass is available in the Midwest. “Our findings confirm that North America’s great abundance of corn stover and wheat straw is sufficiently concentrated in the prime grain-growing regions to make biomass collection practical and economical,” says Niels Henriksen, chief technology officer at Inbicon. “Farmers and biomass refinery owners alike will benefit.”

The study, conducted by long-time biomass specialist Larry Johnson, found that most of the existing corn ethanol plants have concentrations of 1 million to 2.6 million tons of corn stover within 25 miles of the facility, enough to feed up to four commercial-scale cellulosic facilities processing 1,320 tons of stover daily. Of course, as many producers know, the challenge is not finding the feedstock, but harvesting and storing it. Johnson says he’s designed the framework for a comprehensive harvest, storage and transport system and Inbicon is currently devising product specifications for the feedstock, which will include specific bale sizes, physical characteristics for the biomass and density and composition specifications that will assist harvest equipment manufacturers. Inbicon is also collaborating on several U.S. projects, including a hybrid corn and cellulosic ethanol project with Great River Energy near Spiritwood, N.D., and a corn ethanol project with the Green Investment Group in Alton, Ill. While challenges remain, Inbicon executives say the study proves that there are no technical or feedstock obstacles preventing hundreds of biomass refineries from being established in the U.S. and Canada. 

—Kris Bevill