South Dakota Company Announces Ethanol Breakthrough

Nov 2, 2017

A new discovery from South Dakota-based POET DSM Advanced Biofuels has led to a process that company officials say transforms virtually any plant into fuel.

Officials with Poet DSM Advanced Biofuels have announced a breakthrough that will allow for increased cellulosic ethanol production. 

The latest development from the South Dakota-based company is a process called pre-treatment. Matt Merritt with Poet DSM Advanced Biofuels says pre-treatment transforms plant residue like corn cobs and husks into a substance that can eventually lead to fuel. 


"We take that material, it gets chopped up and then it goes into this pre-treatment system. And, through a number of means, it basically gets mashed up into what looks like a stringy mud. Once it gets that muddy consistency, that's when we're able now to get at the sugars that are in there with the yeast and the enzymes. So, now we're able to get at those sugars and ferment it, to produce ethanol, produce alcohol," Merritt says. 

​Cellulose is a sugar found in the cell wall of plants. Merritt says its abundance creates more options than starch ethanol, which is produced by using corn kernels. 

“When you’re talking about cellulosic ethanol, you’re talking about any material that has cellulose, which is really, any organic, plant material in the country. Can you make cellulosic biofuel from wood? Yes. Can you make it from tobacco? Yes. Can you make it from grass? Yes," Merritt says. 

Merritt says the process takes place at POET DSM's Project Liberty plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Merritt says the company calls the effort “Project Liberty” because the further development of cellulosic biofuel will allow other states currently not in the energy production business to participate. He says this will help the U.S. become more energy independent.