Poet expands cover crop research in Iowa

By Poet LLC | June 24, 2016

Poet LLC is expanding its cover crop research as part of soil sustainability work in Emmetsburg, Iowa, for cellulosic ethanol development. The work is part of an ongoing commitment to helping farmers make sound management decisions around harvesting crop residue for cellulosic ethanol.

“Agriculture is the solution to so many of the world’s challenges, and there’s an enormous opportunity in cellulosic ethanol,” Poet CEO Jeff Broin said. “As this industry starts to grow, we’re working to make sure that it’s done in a way that is as sustainable as possible.”

In Emmetsburg, Project Liberty is a 20 MMgy capacity ethanol plant that converts crop residue into biofuel. The plant, part of a joint venture between the U.S. ethanol producer Poet and the Netherlands-based DSM, has completed startup and is currently ramping up to full output.

To ensure proper land management, Iowa State University and USDA have worked with the biomass team for eight years, monitoring the soil under different residue removal practices. In addition to that research, last year Poet Biomass added two fields of cover crops (a mix of tillage radish and oats) to ascertain what impact field cover has when paired with a variety of tillage practices and residue removal rates. This year they are planting rye as a cover crop and adding a third field to expand the variety of cover crop species and mixes to assess their specific soil benefits and the economic implications. 

“One year of data is too soon to make any bold statements, but we’re certainly optimistic about pairing cover crops with biomass harvesting for cellulosic ethanol in the future,” said Associate Biomass Research Scientist Alicia ElMamouni.

The research aims to determine how cover crops affect soil health, biomass harvesting and feedstock quality as well as the quantity of biomass that can be sustainably removed.

The biomass team will continue to share results of its soil sustainability work with farmers and other similarly focused organizations to help make sound farm management decisions.