First commercial-scale biofuel plant opens in US

The USA's first commercial-scale biofuel plant is now open and will eventually produce more than 110 million litres of fuel a year from corn waste.

The £167m plant, named ‘Project Liberty’, is situated in Emmetsburg, Iowa and converts baled corn cobs, leaves and stalks into renewable fuel. Its development was supported by more than £60m in grants from the US Department of Energy and Agriculture (DOE).

America’s Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes the Project Liberty opening is proof that the country is ready for advanced renewable energy production.

“DOE invested to help bring this facility online because it is boosting America’s energy independence, cutting carbon pollution, and holds great promise for our domestic agriculture and energy industries,” said Vilsack. “This facility has already created local jobs and opportunities for farmers, and it will continue to spur local investment and open the door for new technology and job growth across rural America.”

Fantasy to reality

Project Liberty is a joint venture between Poet and DSM. At full capacity, it will convert 770 tons of biomass per day, from a 45-mile radius of the plant, to produce ethanol at a rate of up to 113 million litres per year. As the USA’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility, Project Liberty marks a huge step forward in the wider adoption of biofuels, both in North America and elsewhere.

POET’s founder and executive chairman Jeff Broin added: “Some have called cellulosic ethanol a ‘fantasy fuel,’ but today it becomes a reality. With access now to new sources for energy, Project Liberty can be the first step in transforming our economy, our environment and our national security.”

The State of Iowa has taken a lead role in helping to make the project a reality by contributing £12m in grants for capital costs and feedstock logistics. USDA invested £1.6m to support the delivery of more than 58,000 dry tons of corn crop residues, helping establish the feedstock logistics network.

VIDEO: Project Liberty timelapse

Luke Nicholls

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