Mining Gold in Farm Country - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Mining Gold in Farm Country

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EMMETSBURG, Iowa (KTTC)- Something remarkable is about to happen in the ethanol industry. Over the next ten years, look for some 400 new ethanol refineries to be build across the U.S. and they're all about changing the way we're making ethanol in Minnesota and Iowa.

"Welcome to this celebration of the ground-breaking of Project LIBERTY and the introduction of POET/DSM Advance Bio fuels," says Jim Sturdevant as a greeting for all farmers attending a plant groundbreaking ceremony.

The world is changing at the blink of an eye. For farmers, the world is changing faster than they can harvest their crop.

Ethanol producer POET Energy, in association with DSM, a materials sciences company from the Netherlands, is this spring diving into a new venture. It's one that could open local farmers to a whole new revenue stream, an additional $15-20 million a year across the Midwest.

"Being from Emmetsburg," says Iowa Democratic Senator Jack Kibbie, "this Project LIBERTY is putting Emmetsburg on the map all over the world."

In Emmetsburg, Iowa recently, POET broke ground on the future of ethanol production called Project Liberty.

If you think it's all about energy independence for America, you're right.

Poet President Jeff Lautt laid out a plan for the company to change the world of farming, and the industry of ethanol production forever.

"So, this is really just another step to further solidifying the importance of our farmers, rural Americas and communities like Emmetsburg and the people around here to continue to grow and to become an energy independent with a cleaner fuel like ethanol."

Last year, Iowa and Minnesota alone combined to produce around 5 billion gallons of ethanol. The birth of the ethanol movement has meant a wave of new wealth among farmers, even with crop farm income dropping 10-percent last year compared to a record 2010 season, and this spring, corn farmers are at it again.

So it looks like the ethanol industry is doing pretty well right now.

Why Project Liberty? What's changing?

Cellulosic ethanol is part of a larger movement of breaking down organic materials and turning them into the new kinds of fuel. Now, for cellulosic ethanol, we're taking things like corn stock and husk and turning them into gold.

As a part of Project LIBERTY with POET, the plan is to start with a 20-million gallon refinery at Emmetsburg, gradually growing to 25 million gallons. About 770 tons of biomass material is needed daily to keep up with production. They expect to have nearly 400 refineries by the year 2022.

For the Project Liberty kickoff, hundreds of farmers were on hand at the Wild Rose Casino, celebrating being partners in this whole new industry. A day so significant, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad came to share a few words of praise.

"I came into the legislature in the 70's when it was in its infancy and we were calling it gas-ahol. So we've come a long ways. And now we're looking at cellulosic ethanol, the next generation."

These farmers trust and believe they are literally mining gold in farm country.

It is uncertain if Project LIBERTY will be open to more farmers as the initiative expands, but only time will tell if their instinct about the biomass refinery movement is on target and if it will pay off.

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