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POET puts out the call for cobs

Agriculture.com Staff 11/07/2008 @ 1:32pm

With about a dozen farm equipment companies set to demonstrate the latest technology for harvesting corn cobs, ethanol maker POET planned to ramp up its commercialization of cellulosic ethanol Thursday at its plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Mother Nature had her own ideas. Rain prevented the demonstration. But farmers could still kick the tires of modified grain carts and combines and talk to representatives of companies including Deere, Case-IH and Claas.

Nor did bad weather stop POET's CEO, Jeff Broin, from challenging farmers to join the Sioux Falls-based company's plan to make 25 million gallons of ethanol from corn cobs, starting in 2011. The company wants to start contracting with farmers to harvest cobs as early as 2009, Broin said.

"What we're doing here today is history in the making and each of you has the opportunity to be a part of that," Broin told farmers gathered in a large white tent next to a muddy corn field where the demonstration ultimately had to be postponed.

Cobs have a lot of potential to increase the nation's ethanol output. An acre of corn produces about three-fourths of a ton of cobs, Broin told reporters later. And a ton of cobs can be broken down and fermented into about 85 gallons of ethanol. That means that, in theory, the 2008 harvest of 78 million acres of corn could have produced nearly 5 billion gallons of ethanol.

Broin said that the cost of enzymes used to break down cobs is coming down faster than expected and that his company's research and development of processes that will make cellulosic ethanol profitably is on track.

The company already has a small-scale plant in Scotland, South Dakota, that will begin making ethanol from cobs before the end of this year.

Broin expects to contract with growers near the Emmetsburg plant. He doesn't know yet exactly how much POET will pay for cobs, but expects it to be between $30 and $60 per ton. "Obviously, this has to be profitable for the farmers or they're not going to do it," Broin said.

An added incentive is that the new farm bill will reimburse farmers up to $45 a ton for the first two years under a program established to encourage cellulosic ethanol production.

POET will pick up the cobs at the farms of contracting growers. Farmers will be asked to leave the cobs in piles at the edge of a field.

With about a dozen farm equipment companies set to demonstrate the latest technology for harvesting corn cobs, ethanol maker POET planned to ramp up its commercialization of cellulosic ethanol Thursday at its plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Several methods of harvesting cobs are being perfected. They include modifying combines to allow large chunks of cobs and corn into the same grain bin in the combine. The cobs then have to be separated before loading into carts. That's called the corn and corncob mix, or CCM approach. Other methods involve separating cobs from trash in a towable unit behind the combine.

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