The largest producer of ethanol in the US, POET Energy, recently opened an $8 million “pilot plant” to produce cellulosic ethanol. The 20,000 gallon per year plant is called a pilot project because it’s to be a forerunner to the company’s $200 million dollar, commercial-scale plant they hope to build in 2011, called Project LIBERTY. If things go well with the pilot plant, then it’s a go for Project Liberty.
Cellulosic ethanol is key to the future of biofuel, since it emits less greenhouse gas than even conventional ethanol, and it’s made from made from crop wastes, unlike regular ethanol made from otherwise usable corn products. Unfortunately, cellulosic ethanol is more difficult to produce and as a result, is much more expensive than traditional ethanol. However, according to Jeff Broin, the chief executive officer of POET, cellulosic ethanol should cost about the same as grain-based ethanol in about five to seven years.
As for the pilot plant, Broin says it’s performing above their expectations. “Within the first 30 days of operation, we had produced more than 1,000 gallons and were able to replicate the results we had achieved in our labs.” That means Project Liberty will most likely be up and running by 2011, pumping a massive load of ethanol into the market. We’ll see what happens.