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POET field day explains Project Liberty

By Staff | Nov 13, 2008

Emmetsburg The Reporter staff writer

“We need Iowa farmers to take advantage of this opportunity and take it seriously,” is how Jeff Broin, chief executive officer of POET Biorefining, summed up his company's cob harvesting field day, held Nov. 6. POET held the event at its Emmetsburg biorefirinery to showcase what the company has learned in partnership with several equipment manufacturers about harvesting the lowly corncob.

Once used as a heating fuel, and most often left to decompose in cornfields across the land, the cob is now being touted as a source for additional ethanol production to help reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, through the production of cellulosic ethanol. A pile of corncobs greeted visitors to POET's Cob Harvest Day. Alongside the pile was a sign, explaining how that pile of cobs could replace 4,500 gallons of imported gasoline.

It's the promise of an additional 25 million gallons of ethanol being produced by using corncobs through the cellulosic process, developed by POET, that prompted the public cob harvest outing. Displays of equipment being produced to handle the logistics of cob harvesting were available for inspection by area producers, but a planned actual harvest of corn to see the equipment in operation was rained out. As part of the outing, producers were able to speak with representatives of the various partnering manufacturers working with POET on Project Liberty, the cellulosic ethanol initiative.

“We wanted to be able to let you see some of this equipment in action today, being put through its paces, but Mother Nature had other plans for us,” noted Jim Sturdevant, project manager for Project Liberty.

Scott Weishaar, POET's director of business development, explained the three basic forms of cob harvesting being studied and used by Project Liberty. The first is the corncob mix where modifications made to combines allow for the corn and cobs to both end up in the grain tank. They are transferred to grain carts and later separated by trammel screens. Cobs are piled at the end of the field for collection at a later date, while the grain is transported to market.

The second method is whole-cob collection, where a specially designed cob-caddy wagon is pulled behind the combine. Cobs are transferred into the caddy and subsequently emptied into piles at the end of a field for later collection.

A new method being researched is a joint effort by researchers at Iowa State University and John Deere, involving a modification to a John Deere 9770 STS combine with a forage chopper style unit mounted on the rear of the combine that would chop the cobs and distribute them into a trailing forage wagon.

“We tried cob harvesting for the first time last year on 4,000 acres in South Dakota,” Weishaar noted. “That made us 4,000 acre experts, but we're learning more and more this year as we've done harvesting with equipment manufacturers and producers in South Dakota, Texas and Iowa. Our goal in all this is that no cob be left behind.”

Since the inception of Project Liberty, equipment manufacturers have joined the research and are working closely with POET in the development of specialized equipment to handle cob harvesting. Among the manufacturers for the CCM method of harvest are Case-IH, John Deere and Claas-Lexion, for combines, along with Unverferth, a grain cart manufacturer and Wildcat, the manufacturer of trammel screen systems.

Manufacturers for the whole-cob harvesting equipment include Redekop cob caddys, Case-IH, who is also building a cob caddy and Iowa manufacturers Vermeer Corporation and Demco Manufacturing, who are building a cob caddy and a specialized grain-cob cart.

Other manufacturers involved in Project Liberty include Fantini America, which is building harvesting heads for combines, along with Trail King, manufacturers of specialized trailers, Claas equipment and Machinery Link, a leasing firm that provides farm equipment. All of the manufactures had products actually used in the harvesting process on display at the event.

During remarks to the crowd attending the event, POET CEO Jeff Broin reiterated the importance and the implications of Project Liberty for not only area farmers, but for the entire nation.

“We have to remember that 65 percent of our nation's oil is coming from foreign sources, and that's not going to last forever,” Broin said. “Ethanol is a resource we have available, right here, right now, that we can use to reduce that need.

We can truly become energy independent through ethanol. This is history in the making and you are all a part of it.”

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