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The Dream Is Reality

By Staff | Mar 15, 2012

A six-year odyssey to bring cellulosic ethanol to a commercial scale was realized Tuesday noon with the ceremonial ground breaking for POET’s Project Liberty. The delegation included Governor Terry Branstad, along with POET?President Jeff Lautt, Stephan Tanda of Royal DSM, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Iowa Economic Development Director Debi Durham and Project Liberty Manager Jim Sturdevant at the plant site, adjacent to POET’s Emmetsburg Bio-refinery. --Dan Voigt photo

It has been said that before one can enjoy success, one must endure trials, tribulations and have great patience.

For POET/DSM, patience was rewarded Tuesday noon when a party of officials including the Governor of Iowa donned hard hats and drove shovels into the earth to turn the first soil for the construction of Project Liberty. The six-year long odyssey to the production of commercial scale cellulosic ethanol began for Emmetsburg and Palo Alto County back in 2007, with the announcement of the selection of POET-Emmetsburg as the site for the first cellulosic facility.

“What a great day, for a lot of reasons,” POET President Jeff Lautt told a crown of around 300 area residents at the Wild Rose Casino and Resort ballroom. “It’s exciting to get all the major partners in this effort together in the same room to celebrate an important milestone in our progress.”

Lautt noted that the association with Royal DSM made the project come together, as DSM was the only company that has both the enzymes and yeast technology that allows for the conversion of the cellulosic material sugars into ethanol through POET’s fermentation process. “No other organization in the world could bring both these technologies to the process.”

“The ambitious goal of this joint venture is to develop a complete cellulosic ethanol technology package that can be licensed not only to producers here in Iowa, but throughout the corn belt here in the US and across the world,” Lautt explained. “That’s why we’re so excited to celebrate the start of construction.”

According to Lautt, vertical construction of the Project Liberty facilities will begin this Spring, as footings and site grading have already been completed. According to plans, the first cellulosic ethanol is slated to be produced in the Fall of 2013.

“We couldn’t have made it this far without all of you,” Lautt told the crowd. “We appreciate the welcome from the Emmetsburg community, the surrounding counties, and we’re grateful for the financial support of the State of Iowa and the Department of Energy and by DSM in this venture. But, perhaps most of all, we’re thankful for the farmers in this area who have been such willing innovators in your fields.”

Lautt continued, “Without each of you having the vision to be pioneers, there would be no point in having this discussion today or no discussion about Project Liberty. What we’re really doing is creating something grand Creating an entire new industry we’re creating an entirely new revenue stream for farmers right here in Iowa and across the U.S.”

“You will be forgiven if you have never heard of DSM before,” Stephan Tanda, Member of the Managing Board of Royal DSM, told the crowd as he started his remarks. “But, I also bet that most of you will not go through a day without actually being in touch with one of our products, whether it be medicines, vitamins, whether its enzymes or advanced plastics, ballistic fibers to protect our troops or next-generation paints. I’m sure you will touch us somehow.”

Tanda noted that DSM began as the Dutch State Mines Corporation, dealing in coal, and later adapted to petroleum products and is now involved in biofuels. “I now say that DSM stands for Doing Something Meaningful,” Tanda said, “But what we are really doing in this joint effort with POET is to develop what it means to live off the land at this time. Together, we will work to unlock new sources for fuel.”

According to Tanda, the pioneering spirit of POET was a natural match for that of DSM, and that through the joint venture, the focus would be to create brighter lives in a sustainable way. “We are at the forefront of developing an entirely new economy in the world through Project Liberty.”

State Senator Jack Kibbie spoke about renewable fuels and their importance in the state, noting renewable fuel production brought $14 billion to the state of Iowa along with thousands of jobs. “I tell groups there are only two states better off than Iowa, one of those is North Dakota and they’ve got oil, Wyoming has coal and Iowa has ethanol. Iowa is an energy exporter now, but we’ve all got to work on educating the public about the benefits of ethanol.”

Kibbie drew a huge round of applause when he commented, “every automobile built in the U.S. ought to be a flex fuel car. It only costs a hundred bucks to do that, and then let the consumer decided what kind of fuel they want to put in that car,” a reference to continued federal government resistance to higher levels of ethanol in gasoline.

The keynote speaker of the event was the Honorable Terry Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, who was quick to praise the importance of Project Liberty. “This groundbreaking today is a great example of a project that leverages Iowa’s unique strength in agriculture and renewable fuels production to create another new product for the renewable energy marketplace. Iowa’s biofuels industries have added $6 billion to Iowa’s economy, generated $3.7 billion in household income and created and supported 82,000 Iowa jobs. The regional economic benefits of this project are significant. This is a facility that will require highly-skilled workers and create high-paying jobs.”