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DOE announces loan to create first commercial-scale ethanol plant

DOE will provide financial backing for the first commercial-scale ethanol plant in the U.S., which will produce motor fuel from corncobs, leaves and husks.

This morning (July 7, 2011), Secretary Steven Chu of the Department of Energy (DOE) and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced DOE’s plan to make a $105 million loan guarantee to help support construction of an ethanol factory in Emmetsburg, Iowa by Poet LLC, the largest U.S. ethanol company. With the loan, the factory would expand to become the first commercial-size ethanol plant in the United States to produce motor fuel from corncobs, leaves and husks. Construction should begin in August 2011, and the factory is expected to be completed in May 2013.

Steven Chu said:

Everyday the United States spends about a billion dollars importing oil. President Obama has proposed to reduce our energy imports by a third by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal, and one we think we can meet using biofuel.

Secretary Chu spoke of the intention of the DOE to conditionally support, with a loan guarantee, the nation’s first commerical-size cellulosic fuel plant. This plant will not use the edible parts of the corn.

The project will use local corn to produce up to 25 millions gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. A strong domestic biofuels energy is good for our economy, and our environment.

Read what Poet LLC said about the conditional loan guarantee

Secretary Vilsack added:

This will allow us to displace nearly 13.5 million gallons of gasoline, and avoid [the emission] of over 122,000 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of taking 23,500 cars of the road.

There are many critics of biofuel. Many say that biofuel “burns dirty.” Others say that it creates a bad precedent to set if we create competition between our food crops and out fuel crops. Vilsack addressed the latter concern:

It’s a way to move away from our debate about food versus fuel, by using corn cobs and other agricultural waste material, and it’s one of many steps that we’re taking to …identify alternative feedstocks for ethanol production. The USDA is developing a robust research and development commitment.

He said the U.S. government is also working on infrastructure to make biofuels more available to the general public. He added that, over the next 6 months, additional announcements will be made about biofuel innovations in other parts of the country.

Bottom line: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced July 7, 2011 its intention to provide a $105 million loan guarantee to support the construction of the United States’ first large-scale ethanol plant, which will make motor fuel using the non-edible parts of corn. Construction of this cellulosic ethanol plant should begin in August 2011, and the factory is expected to be completed in May 2013.

Beth Lebwohl