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POET Updates Producers on Project Liberty Status

By Staff | Mar 20, 2008

In the year since the announcement and selection of Emmetsburg as the location for its Project Liberty program, officials of POET Biorefining have been busy paving the way for one of the most exciting endeavors in agriculture. Officials from POET and its partner organizations returned to Emmetsburg last Thursday evening to update area residents on what has happened, what has been learned, and the challenge that Project Liberty will bring to the agricultural sector of our area.

“As I prepared for tonight’s meeting, I realized that a year ago, none of us in this room ever dreamed we’d see $5 a bushel corn and $110 a barrel oil, like we did today,” noted Jim Sturdevant, Director of Project Liberty. “But, my friends, now our nation and the world are at an energy crossroads. Today, 65 percent of our oil is coming from foreign countries. We have to do something about that.”

In his remarks to the over 400 area producers who turned out at the Wild Rose Casino and Resort Ballroom Thursday night, Sturdevant pointed out just how much our world has changed – agriculturally. “In 1947, the average price for a bushel of corn was $2.16, and today it’s over $5. In 1947, a barrel of oil cost $2.16 and on Wednesday, oil closed at $110 a barrel. That, my friends, is change, no doubt about it.”

Sturdevant noted that attacks against the ethanol industry continue, even despite the best efforts of the industry to counteract the negative publicity. “Detractors talk about how ethanol takes corn out of the food chain, how making ethanol uses too much water, and how making ethanol affects the environment. I will remind you of one thing – when you hear these attacks, seek out the facts. Please remember that these attacks are unfair, unjust and untrue.”

To illustrate his point, Sturdevant presented some facts on the value of corn, figured at $4 per bushel.

“There is 28 cents worth of corn in a dozen eggs, 26 cents worth of corn in pound of pork, 19 cents worth of corn in a pound of beef, and 13 cents worth of corn in a gallon of milk,’ Sturdevant said, “but how much corn is there in a box of Corn Flakes – how about four cents. Believe me, we can easily meet the world’s needs for corn in the food supply, as is evidenced by the surplus of 1.3 billion bushels in 2007.”

Addressing the concern over water usage to produce ethanol, Sturdevant opened a few eyes. “It takes three gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol, but in comparison, it takes nine gallons to produce a 12 ounce can of fruit, 24 gallons of water to produce a pound of plastic, and 42 gallons of water to produce a gallon of gasoline. To produce your average Sunday newspaper, well, it takes 280 gallons of water.”

Sturdevant hesitated for a moment and grinned. “I probably shouldn’t share this last one in Emmetsburg on St. Pat’s weekend, but, how much water does it take to produce a barrel of beer?”

Several guesses were ventured from the audience, until one voice shouted out, “Priceless.”

With a roar of laughter, Sturdevant joked, “Well, thanks for coming, good night,” and then revealed that it required 1,500 gallons of water to produce that barrel of beer.

To address the environmental concerns over ethanol, Sturdevant made this point. “Global warming is not a theory anymore – it is fact – it is real. The use of 10 percent ethanol has been shown and proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 to 29 percent. In 2006, the use of ethanol reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere by eight million tons. That is the equivalent of removing 1.2 million cars from the roadways of the nation.”

Reminding the group that biofuels production will be required to reach 36 billion gallons 2022, Sturdevant noted that current ethanol production is meeting 15 billion gallons of that figure.

“This is where cellulosic ethanol comes into play,” Sturdevant said. “Corn is the foundation for cellulosic ethanol and will be the building block that America’s energy independence will be built upon. That is why we are engaging in Project Liberty.”

Through the research of POET and its partners in cellulosic technology, POET Emmetsburg will produce 100 million gallons of ethanol from corn along, and an additional 25 million gallons from the cellulosic process, using corncobs for the feed stock.

“This will allow us to produce 11 percent more ethanol per bushel and 27 percent more ethanol per acre,” Sturdevant said.

According to Sturdevant, Project Liberty is currently in the design and engineering stages during this year and into 2009, with actual construction on the additional facilities at the Emmetsburg plant slated for 2010, and the start up in 2011. But the biggest question about Project Liberty still remained.

“What are you going to pay for cobs” is the most asked question,” Sturdevant said. “Right now, it will be in the $30 to $60 a ton range, with the producers piling the cobs in their field. A third party will handle the collection and transport to the plant.”

Sturdevant also addressed questions on cob storage and transportation, and when asked, noted that figuring an acre of ground would produce .63 tons of cobs, it would require 275,000 acres to generate enough cobs to meet the needs for Project Liberty.

To explain the harvest tests for Project Liberty last Fall, Darren Ihnen, of Hurley, SD, explained how the cob harvesting experiments went on his 5,000 acres.

“When POET first came to us with this proposal, our first reaction was ‘You want us to do what?” Ihnen admitted. “When we harvest, our goal is to harvest 160 acres a day and we had concerns over meeting that goal. Why cobs? Well, some of my landlords didn’t want us to bale the Stover, but they didn’t care about the cobs.”

Ihnen began his corn harvest Sept. 18, and finished on Nov. 22. Starting moisture on the corn was 28 percent, with the cobs testing 55 percent, but at the end of the harvest, corn tested at 14 percent moisture and cobs tested at 13 percent.

The cob harvest was completed with two methods, the corn and cob mixture, using a John Deer combine, and a Cob Caddy, coupled to a CaseIH combine.

“To be honest, the harvest was actually somewhat smoother than we anticipated,” Ihnen told the group. “This is going to be a tremendous opportunity for the rural community. For the farmers who grow the corn and new businesses, like the people who will pick up and transport the cobs. Improvements will be made to the harvesting process in the early stages of the business, but this can be done. We did it, and we’re going to do it again.”

Among the partners in Project Liberty are several farm equipment manufacturers, including CaseIH, John Deere, CLAAS, AGCO, Feterel, Demco, Kinze and Vermeer. All of the major machinery manufacturers are working closely with POET to enable the cob harvesting process, and will continue to assist in the research and development phase of the project.

The final speaker of the evening was BJ Schany, Commodities Manager of the POET facility in Emmetsburg. Schany made his point right away. “You have a really unique opportunity sitting right in front of you…the world as we know it is going to change, and you will be leaders in that change.”

Schany also reflected on the past of agriculture. “In 1935, the average corn yield in Palo Alto County was 39 bushels per acre. Today, we have 16 row corn heads, 40-foot grain platforms, 500 horsepower combines and $5 corn. Who could have ever imagined that back in 1939?”

According to Schany, the 2008 corn harvest locally will see the harvest of cobs as well, allowing area corn growers a chance to get “hands-on”. “We will work with several area producers to let them try the harvesting methods, collection, storage and transportation of the cobs this fall. And, in late October of 2008, we will host Project Liberty Day to showcase the harvesting process.”

Schany paused and concluded his remarks with a final thought. “The world is changing and as leaders, we have a responsibility to guide that change, and it starts here in Emmetsburg.”