The reality of Project LIBERTY can be found around the Emmetsburg, Iowa area in the form of biomass bales… and the steel supports of the rising biorefinery.
For the past three-plus years, Project LIBERTY – the soon-to-be-completed commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa – has made steady and impressive progress.
The project has produced everything from first-of-its-kind technological advancements to important partnerships to real-world results from POET’s cellulosic pilot plant in Scotland, S.D.
And plenty of excitement has surrounded the project. The project is owned by POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels – a joint venture that combines POET’s ethanol expertise with the global reach of Royal DSM, a leader in yeast and enzyme technology.
At its peak, Project LIBERTY is expected to convert 270,000 or so tons of biomass – crop residue in the form of cobs, leaves, and husks – into 25 million gallons of ethanol annually. The plant is slated to open in late 2013, and POET-DSM plans to buy 120,000 tons of biomass and produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in that first year growing to 25 million gallons annually.
The project has been called “a revolution for agriculture” and “a pioneer in the future of cellulosic ethanol.”
But, for the most part, LIBERTY’s headway has been visible only in progress reports and press releases.
That’s all changing now, as the first signs of vertical construction – the above-ground foundations and steel supports – rise from the ground at the Project LIBERTY site. The plant itself is starting to take shape, literally, and that’s made the progress seem more tangible, even for some of LIBERTY’s long-time participants.
“People who have been involved in the project for years are driving by the plant and saying ‘Wow, this is becoming a reality,’” says Larry Ward, Co-Director for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels with POET. “And I’m one of them. There’s something truly exciting about seeing the physical plant taking shape and hearing the sounds of the heavy machinery.”
Ward, who has been involved with LIBERTY since its idea stage, says the plant represents “a whole new industry. This is something that has been talked about for over 20 years, but it’s always been five years out,” he says. “Today it is here. Cellulosic ethanol production is here, and now you can see it.”
For Adam Wirt, POET’s Biomass Logistics Director, the physical signs of Project LIBERTY’s progress can also be found in the farm fields around Emmetsburg. “If you’re driving through the area during harvest, you’re going to see bales in the cornfields,” he says. “What you’re seeing is the future of farming.”
Those bales represent the thousands of tons of biomass that POET-DSM has been buying from area farmers as part of the company’s three-year test run in preparation for the plant’s opening in 2013.
This year, 85,000 tons of biomass were contracted. Once operational, Project LIBERTY will require 285,000 tons per year.
“Those bales represent a new revenue stream for farmers,” says Wirt. “This could be the start of an agricultural revolution, and these area farmers are the pioneers. They signed up because they saw the vision and understood where we wanted to go. Now, that vision is becoming reality.”
Rick Hurley, an Emmetsburg-area corn and soybean farmer, is one of those suppliers who has been delivering biomass bales to Project LIBERTY since that first season.
“It’s pretty exciting stuff to see this plant start to take shape,” Hurley says. “This has the potential to really benefit the area, because that money is going to be re-spent within the community. And that’s already happening. Earlier today I drove by an equipment dealer in Emmetsburg that wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that plant being built. That’s what brought him to the area.
So you can already see the economic impact starting.”
And for Hurley, Project LIBERTY has meant more than just an additional revenue stream – the studies from the biomass research could have long-term positives for his crop production.
“Sure, selling the bales has generated new revenue,” he says, “but we also know now that the removal of part of that stover will also help us in the long run to manage some of the residue as the yields become larger and larger. We know that plant can be a real plus for our farm and, eventually, farming everywhere. We’ve been hearing that this plant was happening for years. Now we can see it happening.”
Hans van der Sluijs, the Co-Director for POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels with DSM, points to the recent realworld results, and to some the major decisions made over the last few months, that have moved Project LIBERTY forward.
“The pilot plant in Scotland continues to prove that this will be a reality on the global scale,” he says. “Those results show us we are well on track. We’ve also done some big things recently. We made a decision on the biogas equipment provider and the solid fuel boiler equipment provider. We contracted with ANDRITZ for their pre-treatment technology (a key component needed to break down the cellulose to produce biofuel).”
Still, he says, the excitement of those behind-thescenes advancements is no match for the tangible sights and sounds of Project LIBERTY’s first stages of construction.
“Talking about a revolution in agriculture is one thing,” says van der Sluijs. “Seeing it makes it seem more real. When you look at that plant, you’re seeing history in the making. It is not just the concrete and the steel of a plant in Iowa. It is something that we can take from here to a global level. It is not just happening now, it is something that will be happening for the future generations of the world. And now everyone can see that.”