"Fantasy" of Fuel From Corn Waste Gets Big U.S. Test

"Fantasy" of Fuel From Corn Waste Gets Big U.S. Test

Project Liberty is the first of three commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants opening this year.
Thursday, September 11, 2014 - 1:45pm

EMMETSBURG, Iowa—Despite its grand scale, the event that marked the opening of the Project Liberty ethanol plant in northern Iowa last week at times felt a bit like a homey church function.

At a cavernous warehouse in this small Iowa town, nearly 3,000 people gathered at long tables swathed in red, white, and blue cloth to watch the ceremony. Speakers onstage talked about a vision—a "fantasy," as the event materials put it—finally made real. Then a minister blessed the plant before attendees, many of them farmers, lined up for a lunch of burgers and coleslaw. A country singer took the stage, which was bookended by stacked bales of the plant's straw-like fuel.

The so-called fantasy that the Liberty plant—a $275 million co-venture between Sioux Falls, S.D.-based ethanol producer POET and DSM, a Dutch chemical conglomerate—aims to realize is the first commercial-scale production of cellulosic ethanol. Unlike corn ethanol, a fuel long criticized for straining the land and water resources needed to grow corn for food, cellulosic fuels are made from biomass such as corn stalks, leaves, and other organic waste material.

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