Yesterday in Dickens representatives from POET, a company that "strives to produce ethanol and other biorefined products," spoke to a small group of farmers about the possibility of working with them to create cellulosic ethanol at a plant located in Emmetsburg.
Cellulosic ethanol, as described by POET's website, is made from cellulose, a non-grain material that gives cellular structure to all plants. According to the company, cellulose is the world's most abundant compound that can be turned into ethanol. POET began research on cellulosic production about a decade ago in South Dakota, where the company is based.
"Our goal is to reduce our use of foreign oil, and we know the next step we need to take to get there is cellulosic ethanol," POET Commodity/Biomass Manager B.J. Schany said. "Corn ethanol is maxed out. We have a huge supply of cellulosic ethanol that's not being tapped right now."
The Emmetsburg plant, named Project Liberty, is designed to produce 25 million gallons of ethanol a year. In order for that to happen the company will need about 120,000 pounds of feedstock to get started - about one pound per acre. Eventually, the plant will need 300,000 pounds, once it is in full swing.
"Currently, we have about 600 farmers delivering corn bales to us," POET Biomass Coordinator Randall Pelzer said. "We will need help from six counties to supply the plant."
The plant is projected to start making ethanol in late 2013. It will cost $250 million and employ around 530 people. Construction on the plant is currently going on, but progress is "going fast," according to Pelzer. Located next to the Project Liberty plant is an existing grain-based ethanol plant.
There are 27 more plants in seven states that can produce 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol. POET wants to be producing close to 36 billion gallons of ethanol by the year 2022.
"We're in the process of contracting acres right now," Schany said. "Right now we're trying to get as many tons contracted in a radius of Emmetsburg. As this gets bigger and bigger we need to expand out. We need about a third of the acres in a 30-mile radius of Emmetsburg."
POET is offering two types of contracts to local producers who are interested in becoming suppliers to the plant. The first is a custom model, where POET does all of the bailing, stacking and hauling. This type of contract can be either for one or three years. The second is a farmer model, where the grower does all of the work. This model can be for one or four years, and will return more money.
Producers can pick which contract they want and which month they would like to deliver their bales or have them picked up by POET.
"I don't look for it to be a problem getting acres. Its a big number though, what we need to get." Schany said.
It is another revenue stream for those who sign on with POET; the local economy will be impacted considerably, according to Schnay.
"You have a chance of being part of an industry that's never been done before," Pelzer said.
POET will be paying close to $20 million back to local producers once the plant is up and running.
A meeting with POET representatives will be held on Jan. 29 in Spencer at Godfather's Pizza at 10:30 a.m.