POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels' collection of biomass gives farmers a no-hassle approach to being a part of the future of ethanol.
Over the past few years, more and more Emmetsburg, Iowa area farmers have been selling biomass to Project LIBERTY, a process that is reducing unnecessary field residue, increasing revenue, and perhaps revolutionizing farming.
In 2010, during the test phase of the commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, Project LIBERTY purchased 56,000 bone dry tons of biomass in the form of cobs, husks, and stalks.
In 2014, Project LIBERTY, a joint venture between POET and Dutch-based DSM, plans to buy almost five times that amount – 285,000 bone dry tons of biomass –to produce 20 million gallons ofcellulosic ethanol annually.
Corn and soybean farmer Rick Elbert has been selling biomass to Project LIBERTY for four years. “This has definitely become a regular part of our farming operation,” says Elbert. “It has created another revenue stream and reduced our waste levels in the field. It has created business opportunities for young people in the community.”
Elbert has seen that firsthand. His son Kyle, 22, started a custom baling business in the Emmetsburg area.
“We’re keeping jobs in this community,” Elbert says. “More than that, we’re helping create a renewable resource that can help fuel the nation. The farmers that I know understand how good a deal this is for all of us, and it’s getting to be more common around here.”
With the EZ Bale™ process, farmers can collect biomass with a traditional combine and baler. The residue can be stored just like hay or straw before delivery. The EZ Bale, designed specifically for Project LIBERTY, removes a much lower rate of biomass, contains less ash material, and requires less nutrient replacement than traditional stover removal. The EZ Bale system not only makes biomass easy to collect and store, it also makes it easy on your farmland, says Adam Wirt, POET’s Biomass Logistics Director.
“All of our research tells us this process is good for the farm,” Wirt says. “Selling this biomass provides a great way to manage excess residue levels that come with high-yielding corn. We can actually increase corn yields.”
Taking into account tillage savings, yield increases and residue sales, a total profit increase of $50 or so per acre is realistic, according to Wirt.
“We’re taking something previously considered a waste stream and creating a renewable resource, creating revenue for farmers and creating jobs,” Wirt says.
Eric Woodford can attest to the job creation. Previously a full-time farmer in Redwood Falls, Minn., Woodford also ran his own baling business. Recognizing the potential of Project LIBERTY, Woodford moved to Emmetsburg four years ago to open Woodford Equipment, a Vermeer dealership specializing in machinery for the cellulosic ethanol industry.
“Project LIBERTY is doing so much for this community,” Woodford says. “But it’s more than a matter of economics. It’s about doing something good for our world.”
For Woodford, the future of farming is just down the road, literally. “Some of the farmers around here still seem to be waiting to see if they should get involved or not,” he says. “All they have to do is talk to their neighbor, who’s probably already involved. Just look down the road at Project LIBERTY, and you’re looking at the future of farming. But it’s not the future anymore for Emmetsburg. It’s the here and now.”
B.J. Schany, the Commodities Manager at POET Biorefining –Emmetsburg, points to thenumerous agricultural studies touting the benefits of residue removal. “Farmers spend a ton of money on residue management, and this system helps you get rid of residue and pays you at the same time,” he says.
The process collects about 25 percent of available biomass, leaving the remainder in the field for erosion control and nutrient replacement. Those numbers are consistent with good farm management practices, according to recent studies from Iowa State University and the USDA.
The ease of the collection process, says Schany, eliminates any excuses farmers have regarding the gathering and transport of biomass. “For the farmers who don’t want to bale their own biomass, all they have to do is call us and we’ll do the work for them and they still get paid,” Schany says. “They say it’s the easiest money they’ve ever made.”
While those benefits – the residue removal, the newfound revenue – serve as the tangible draw for those farmers within a 45-mile radius of Project LIBERTY, Adam Wirt knows this is about more than Emmetsburg.
“This could be the start of an agricultural revolution, and these farmers are the pioneers,” Wirt says. “With the response we’ve seen from the farmers in the Emmetsburg area, we can envision cellulosic ethanol plants cropping up in rural communities across the country. These farmers and this commuinty could change the world.”