Published On: Mon, Sep 15th, 2014

First American Commercial-scale Biofuels Plant Opens

The first commercial-scale advanced biofuels plant in the United States has just opened. It began production on September 3, 2014 in Emmetsburg, Iowa. It is a $275 million dollar project based in Iowa, which uses corn waste to produce fuels.


With each year fears about global warming and finite energy sources continue to grow. Businesses, governments and individuals are trying to find alternatives to fossil fuels. They are looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions. From electric cars to wind turbines, eco-friendly living and renewable energy sources are advancing. Green living is becoming a profitable area. And people frown upon businesses that do not attempt to manage their environmental impact. One of the ways that science and technology is attempting to save the fossil fuels crisis is by producing biofuels.

Biofuels contain energy from recent carbon fixation contained in living organisms. In the case of America’s new biofuels plant, the plant uses corn cobs, leaves, husks and stalks to produce the biofuels. In fact, the plant can convert 770 tonnes of baled corn matter. The plant is a project run by Poet, a South Dakota-based ethanol producer. Royal DSM, a Dutch science and chemical company, also own the plant. In 2011 it received a $105 million loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy. Using corn waste and sanitary mixers, the plant could produce up to 76 million liters of fuel each year. The plant produces cellulosic ethanol. This is made from the waste parts of plants.

There is just one large biofuels plant in Europe, at Crescentino in Italy, which produces fuel from straw and arundo donax. The United States does have another plant in operation, though on a smaller scale. The Indian River BioEnergy Center is in Florida. It uses vegetative, garden and municipal waste to produce 30 million liters of fuel each year.

Producing biofuels from food may be more eco-friendly. But some NGOs believe that doing so could increase food prices. They have even suggested that using energy crops for fuels could result in rainforest clearance in developing countries. In fact, this method of fuel production may not be as eco-friendly as it sounds. It’s possible that emissions from their production could be more or a pollutant than fossil fuels. But using food waste  doesn’t result in these problems. Plants can also use other substances that don’t interfere with food production, such as algae. The Iowa plant uses waste that otherwise farmers would throw away and also pays farmers for their waste products.

The developers at the Iowa plant predict that they will avoid producing 210,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The also hope to make up to $250 million by selling fuel and technology licences. This development could help to put the biofuels industry on the map in the States. Over the next few decades, Iowa’s government expects the project to add $24.4 billion to the state’s economy. It will also be creating thousands of jobs.