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POET hosts Project LIBERTY kickoff

By Staff | Aug 20, 2010

Farmers from across northwest Iowa gathered Tuesday in Emmetsburg for Project LIBERTY’s biomass kickoff. Experts were on hand to discuss harvest and biomass storage for cellulosic ethanol uses.

EMMETSBURG – “Our future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams, and that’s very true. We’ve been dreaming of this day for a long time,” said Iowa Gov. Chet Culver. “These are literally fields of opportunity, but you have to go out there and aggressively make it happen.”

The governor’s remarks came Tuesday during a gathering of area producers and residents who turned out for the kickoff of the 2010 biomass harvest season at the POET biorefinery in Emmetsburg.

The kickoff celebrated the start of construction on a 22-acre tract on the POET complex that will become home to the biomass harvest of feedstocks for Project LIBERTY. The biomass storage facility will have a capacity to house some 23,000 tons of biomass bales.

“The domino effect of this biomass project will be unbelievable,” Culver stated. “Not only will it provide new jobs with the creation of cellulosic ethanol, it will also create jobs in the manufacturing sector, as companies build equipment to meet the biomass harvesting needs. It will also help the trucking industry, through growth provided by the transportation of biomass to Project Liberty, and it will also help our railroad industry, through the transportation of ethanol to other parts of the nation.”

“Through the continued growth of the ethanol industry by plants like POET and Project Liberty, Iowa can become energy independent,” Culver said. “These are very exciting times in Iowa and I wouldn’t trade places with any other governor in the nation.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, second from right, talks to Jim Sturdevant, director of POET’s Project LIBERTY during Tuesday’s event in Emmetsburg.

“The efforts of Jeff Broin and POET are taking Iowa to the next level, much like the work of Dr. Norman Borlaug and Henry A. Wallace.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was unable to attend Tuesday’s kickoff in person, but sent a video message to the gathering.

“Iowa’s farmers and biofuel producers have proven that corn ethanol is viable, – a proven alternative to fossil fuels,” Grassley said. “What POET is doing in Emmetsburg will demonstrate that we are ready to move to the next level in ethanol production.

“The facility to be built here will be the first in the nation to produce biofuels from cellulosic materials. The Project LIBERTY biomass program is important – not only to Iowa, but to our entire nation.”

Noting that the project would create an additional 25 million gallons of ethanol a year, Grassley admitted such a step will be challenging.

“The Iowa corn farmer will play a key role,”?he said. “It will be a great challenge, but I’m confident Iowa’s farmers will once again stand up to the challenge and will be at the forefront of cutting-edge, biofuels development.”

Grassley pledged to continue his efforts in the nation’s capitol to reinstate the federal biodiesel tax incentives, as well as extending the ethanol tax incentives and cellulosic tax credits.

“Congressional leadership has the power to continue these important incentives, and it’s past time to do so.”

“We’re here today to celebrate that and to show our appreciation for your courage to act in this new market. What’s happening this fall represents a turning point in American agriculture,” said POET Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin. “For years, farmers have had a growing role in producing grain-based ethanol.

“Responsible and efficient work on America’s farms has helped drive the production of 12 billion gallons of ethanol this year without sacrificing our ability to provide food for the world. Now the time has come to apply that same ingenuity and hard work into harvesting a new crop, one devoted to energy production.”

Broin continued, “As America’s reliance on foreign oil wanes, it will be replaced by a new reliance on rural communities in our own borders.

“The American farmer will provide food, feed and fuel for the country at an unheard of rate. When the rest of the country realizes what Iowa has started and this new market becomes a mainstay of agriculture, those of you here will be able to say “I was there when it all started.”

Also speaking during the gathering were Scott Weishaar, POET’s Vice President of Commercial Development, who offered special thanks to the 85 area producers who have contracted for the upcoming biomass harvest.

“This is a new cash crop, a new revenue stream for something that we’re already doing today, and that’s planting corn. We don’t want you to change that.” Weishaar said. “We’re basically taking a waste product that is now a desirable and necessary feedstock for Project Liberty.”

Lynn Tjeerdsma of the U.S. Department of Agriculture presented a brief update on a newly created program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or BCAP.

“I have to tell you for someone who has been involved in policy development in the farm program area and Farm Service Agency for the last 25 years, how exciting it is to have a program like BCAP onboard, near the finish line and ready to roll out,” Tjeerdsma said. “This is a partnership effort that the FSA and USDA are very pleased to be involved in.”

“My boss, former Governor and now Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, is very passionate about developing rural America, creating new jobs and developing alternative energy.” Tjeerdsma said. “What’s happening right here around us, is exactly what Secretary Vilsack is envisioning for rural America, only you happen to be a little further ahead, thanks to POET, thanks to your state and what’s going on right here in Emmetsburg.”

Dr. Stuart Birrell of Iowa State University noted that research is ongoing on the effects of nutrient levels when stover is removed, but preliminary studies show proportional stover collection is not detrimental to soil nutrients. “In fact, we have some preliminary data that is showing that removal of stover can actually lead to reductions of tillage for crop lands,” Birrell stated.

Kevin Kenny, a research scientist with the Idaho National Laboratories, praised not only POET officials, but also the producers who will be taking part in the biomass harvest.

“You folks should be proud of what has been accomplished here,” Kenny said. “The world is watching, the nation is watching what happens in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and as they watch, we are learning.”

The study of bale storage will move to Emmetsburg in the coming months, and in the interim, storage rules followed for hay storage should be followed for corn stover bales.

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