Poet-DSM's Project Liberty goes from fantasy to reality

By Holly Jessen | September 03, 2014

The grand opening of Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC’s Project Liberty is the start of what Jeff Broin, founder of Poet and executive chairman, believes will be a complete transformation of the energy supply. “This is just the very tip of the iceberg,” he said at the Sept. 3 event, adding that while it might not happen in this lifetime, he is certain that it will happen, because at some point, there will be an end to the fossil fuel supply.  “The world needs a solution and the solution is right here,” he said.

A large group gathered at the plant in Emmetsberg, Iowa, where Poet-DSM will convert 285,000 tons of biomass annually into 20 MMgy, and later, 25 MMgy, of cellulosic ethanol. The capital cost of the project, which is co-located with one of Poet’s corn-ethanol plants, was $275 million.

Rob van Leen, chief innovation officer at Royal DSM, spoke briefly about the company’s next step, to build a facility to produce enzymes onsite. In addition, a next-generation yeast is expected to be in use at the plant during the second half of the year and a third generation yeast will be introduced next year. Poet-DSM is ready, he said, to license out the cellulosic ethanol technology that made Project Liberty possible.

Iowa native, Michael Knotek, U.S. DOE deputy undersecretary for science and energy, said on his drive from Minneapolis to Emmetsberg, he saw biomass all around and the wind blowing through it. “It’s all there, all we have to do is take it,” he said, adding that biofuels addresses the three major concerns of energy security, job creation and climate change. In order to reduce fuel prices due to volatility in the global market, 1,000 biofuel facilities like Project Liberty are needed.  “When I return to Washington, I want to make a big deal out of this,” he said. “The wind is at our back, let’s make biofuels.”