A Poet to rival petrol

Poet Energy, the US’ largest corn-based ethanol producer, sees the race between cellulosic ethanol and petrol prices head-to-head by 2011.

Poet’s one-year-old pilot plant in South Dakota has minimised the cost of making ethanol from corn cobs from $4.13 (€2.77) a gallon to $2.35 a gallon by slimming down capital costs and using an improved cocktail of enzymes.

‘Two years ago I would have told you this was a long shot,’ Poet CEO Jeff Broin remarks. ‘Now I'll tell you that we will produce cellulosic ethanol commercially in two years.’

The producer will use lignin as fuel and to provide all the energy needed for the cellulosic plant as well as 80% of the energy that would be needed by a conventional corn-based distillery making twice the amount of ethanol.

The plant calculated how to cut capital costs by 40%, reduce the amount of energy used in pre-treatment stages and lowered enzyme costs.

An acre of corn field could produce 480 gallons a year of corn-based ethanol and 55 gallons more from processing cobs, leaves and husks.

The US will mandate that refiners use 16 billion gallons a year of cellulosic ethanol by 2025. Broin estimated that the nation currently could produce 5 billion gallons a year of cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs, about 3% of current motor fuel consumption, and perhaps 10 billion gallons eventually.

Poet currently produces 1.5 billion gallons a year of ethanol from corn.

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