The Federal Government, despite sequester and harder times, is a big buyer — of almost everything. Now, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has nudged it into being arbiter for purchases of corn stover, the residue of corn processing that could expand ethanol without cutting into corn supplies for feed and food.
Vilsack signed a deal with corporate giant DuPont to establish guidelines for how the company will collect corn-plant residue for a state-of-the-art ethanol plant in Central Iowa. The Associated Press (AP) said the residue, or corn stover, will be collected while maintaining the quality of the soil, a huge way forward for growth in ethanol.
DuPont is building the $200 million plant at Nevada, Iowa, and it will use, the AP said, 375,000 tons of corn leaves and stalks (stover) to create cellulosic ethanol. Scheduled to be online in 2014, the plant will be the nation’s largest and make 30 million gallons annually —without depleting the state’s corn supply.
As the AP noted, until recently ethanol was made from the actual corn kernel, but expansion of ethanol nationwide as a motor fuel began to cut into corn supplies needed for livestock feed and foodstuffs. Gas prices rose significantly as corn became scarce and the drought pushed corn prices ever higher. It became one of the biggest criticisms and concerns of the ethanol industry.
While cellulosic production of the fuel has been a reality for some time, full-scale plants based on it are absolutely new and revolutionary. Millions went into research to figure out how to break down stover so it could be refined into ethanol. The result is that commercial cellulosic plants are new, but promising and expanding. The AP said about 70 projects are under construction in the U.S. Two, including DuPont’s, will be built right here in corn-producing country.
At the DuPont announcement, Vilsack told the AP, “Cellulosic advanced biofuel is here and it’s here to stay. This is an industry that is making America more energy secure. It’s creating jobs. It’s helping to reduce the cost of gas to consumers and it’s reducing our reliance on foreign oil.”
According to the AP, expansion of cellulosic ethanol, demand for corn stover and other biomass useful in the process, will increase as the plants expand production. Farmers will benefit from the growth in the industry because, the AP reported, “companies are willing to pay them for the stover — which usually sits in the fields and decomposes after harvest. Payments are typically about $15 a ton; two tons of stover per acre is usually removed, equating to about $30 an acre.”
A certain amount of stover must remain in the fields to replenish nutrients for the next crop and to control erosion of the soil. The guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and DuPont will help ensure that farmers, ethanol producers and the environment are all on the same page as this revolutionary process expands, grows and prospers.
I’ll see ya.
An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for more than 40 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or [email protected] sourivalley times.com.