Going after the Getable

By Tom Bryan | October 05, 2012

Persistence breeds good fortune, and so it is that corn fiber—the low-hanging fruit of cellulosic ethanol—is on its way to becoming one of America’s most getable advanced biofuel feedstocks. As told in this month’s page-30 cover story, “Going for the Fiber,” a fortuitous discovery made by a plant engineer at Quad County Corn Processors is now culminating in an $8.5 million “bolt-on” cellulosic addition to the existing 30 MMgy ethanol plant in Galva, Iowa.

Holly Jessen reports that Quad County will soon have the ability to produce an additional 1.8 MMgy of ethanol that may ultimately be deemed an advanced biofuel by the U.S. EPA. Additionally, the plant will achieve huge corn oil yield gains and produce a high-protein animal feed that may command a premium. 

The story is extraordinary because Quad County, despite being a relatively small plant, developed an in-house technology that is potentially transformative. It is also extraordinary because it illustrates the new heights being reached by producers utilizing next-generation enzymes tailored to make the C6 sugars in corn fiber available for fermentation.

While Quad County is employing a single-stream approach, producing grain and cellulosic ethanol in “one pipe,” others continue to prove the near-term viability of cellulosic ethanol from fractionated corn bran. As Jessen points out in her page-37 feature, “Corn Ethanol 1.5,” the recent success of the National-Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) and its client-partners is further evidence that going after the alcohol in corn bran is a good incremental step toward achieving greater quantities of cellulosic ethanol from larger-volume feedstocks.

Ethanol 2.0 isn’t waiting for ethanol 1.5, however. As Sue Retka Schill reports in her page-45 feature, “Milestones Reached,” stand-alone cellulosic ethanol plants continue to be developed worldwide at demonstration and commercial scale. As Retka-Schill points out, EPM’s fall plant map, mailed with this issue, shows more than 6 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol capacity in the U.S. and Canada at nine demonstration plants, and more than 104 MMgy under construction. The story provides updates on a half dozen cellulosic projects moving ahead, and a cursory assessment of high-profile cellulosic ethanol projects and companies that have recently waned.

Finally, be sure to read our superb technical contributions this month, as well as our Q&A with Iowa Sen. Jack Kibbie. Executive Editor Tim Portz talks to Kibbie about farming, public service and his role in bringing Poet’s Project Liberty to Emmetsburg, Iowa.