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POET Updates Producers On Biomass Efforts

By Staff | Apr 15, 2010

Officials of POET Energy brought information on biomass collection and storage to the Wild Rose ballroom in Emmetsburg Tuesday night as part of the ongoing ramp up for Project Liberty. A crowd of around 125 area producers learned about some of the findings of POET’s ongoing research in the storage of cobs and the biomass that will comprise the feed stocks for Project Liberty, the cellulosic ethanol project that will be constructed at POET’s Emmetsburg ethanol facility.

Scott Weishaar, POET’s Director of Development, presented a briefing on the actual project status of Project Liberty, highlighting the goals of the effort, which are the creation of 25 million gallons of ethanol through sustainable biomass. To achieve that goal, POET’s research is studying sustainable biomass collection, storage and delivery systems, with the ultimate goal of reducing the nation’s fossil fuel usage, while at the same time, developing a replicable model for the construction of multiple biorefineries.

“Another offshoot of our research and what we plan to do here is to also be able to utilize the leftover biomass from these processes to create enough methane gas to power both of our facilities in Emmetsburg,” Weishaar said.

Weishaar told the audience that after a long time, signs of construction will be seen on the POET property yet this year.

“The cob storage area preparation work will begin this summer,” Weishaar said. “We’ve completed a Department of Energy Review last month, and they were impressed enough with our progress that they have cancelled the next review. Right now, our final biorefinery approval date, when they sign off on the construction plans, will be Dec. 31, 2010. Construction will start after that, and we plan to be producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial scale in 2012.”

Weishaar noted that there are three primary methods of biomass collection being studied by POET and its partners.

“First pass cobs is where the cobs are collected directly from the combine and then piled for later pick up and transport to the plant. Then there is First pass bales, where a bale of cobs and stover material are baled directly out of the combine as the corn is harvested and the bales are dropped in the field and picked up later. The final method is Second pass bales, where the cobs and stover are left in a windrow by the combine, and are baled later,” Weishaar explained.

“We will talk a lot about bone dry tons (BDT), which is the weight of the biomass materials if all the water is taken out. The moisture subtracted from the weight of the biomass will give us the BDT,” Weishaar added. “This is important because we calculate it will take 770 BDT of biomass per day to operate the cellulosic process.”

Cooperative studies between POET and Iowa State University at test plots near the Emmetsburg facility have provided some guidelines. According to Weishaar, an average yield of 200 bushes to an acre of corn creates four BDT of biomass per acre. If 25 percent of that amount, or one BDT, is removed from the land, there is no noticeable affect on soil nutrient levels.

“Through that joint research with ISU, POET is recommending that producers harvest just one BDT from each acre of land,” Weishaar said. “The studies have further shown that by removing just zero to 25 percent of the residue doesn’t really affect future fertilizer needs, as soil analysis has shown only nominal amounts of N, P and K are needed by the soil, and of that, maybe only an additional 15 to 20 pounds per acre of K is suggested. If you go to 100 percent residue removal, then you look at up to 40 pounds per acre of K being required.”

Also addressing the audience was Kevin Kenny, a researcher with the Idaho National Laboratories, who has been conducting studies on storage and loss of biomass elements through storage.

“We have evaluated the risks for the farmer, the equipment manufactures and for POET,” Kenny said. “And our goal has been to develop recommended best practices for loose and baled cob storage.”

In studying loose cob pile storage, Kenny noted that three sizes of cob piles were created at the POET plant in Emmetsburg, making up some 158 truckloads of cobs. The cobs weighed in at 2,427 tons and ranged from 14 to 51 percent moisture, with an average of 38 percent.

Bales of cobs and biomass totaled 800, and ranged from 29 to 40 percent moisture, with an average of 33 percent. The bales ranged from 50 to 80 percent cob purity, with a 65 percent average.

Representatives from five equipment manufacturers were also on hand Tuesday to visit with producers about their respective machines. Case/IH-New Holland reps discussed their round balers and cob caddy machines, but noted that the research was still ongoing.

“Not one of us manufacturers could do this ourselves,” noted Kevin Richman, an engineer with Case//IH-New Holland. “It’s all through the partnerships that have been created in this room and that we’ve all made with our other machinery manufacturers, you growers and the researchers that are making this all happen.”

Leo Redekop, owner of Redekop Industries of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, discussed his cob caddy equipment, throwing out a suggested price of $60,000 for outright purchase or $15,000 per year lease rates.

Jay VanRoekel, representing Vermeer Manufacturing of Pella, discussed the company’s balers and cob caddies, and also disclosed that a facility is opening in Emmetsburg to handle service for Vermeer products in the near future to better serve area producers. “Woodford Equipment will be opening in the next few days to help give Vermeer customers the support for this new endeavor.”

Steve Gorsuch of AGCO discussed the AGCO-Hesston balers, as well as Lexion harvesting and baling equipment, and also identified local AGCO dealers, including Petersen Equipment in Ruthven, along with Pocahontas Equipment in Pocahontas, as well as Zeigler CAT in Jackson, Minn., as dealers who would also take an active role in serving the needs of producers in the biomass harvest efforts.

Bree Harms of John Deere discussed the existing network of John Deere dealers and the firm’s prior experience with harvesting equipment for other feedstocks, such as switchgrass.

Allen Keller of POET’s Biomass division in Emmetsburg closed out the program by noting that in the first 10 days of contracting with producers for biomass, that 25,000 BDT had been contracted, one third of the first year’s goal of 75,000 BDT.

“We are very excited about the initial response so far in having 25,000 BDT already committed,” Keller noted. “We would encourage you to come and talk to me and Eric Bruhn in the Biomass division to help complete the remaining 50,000 BDT commitment.”