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New biofuel plants tap corn cobs, old power poles

power-polesHmmm, let’s see … we’ve tapped corn, algae and sugarcane for biofuels. What’s next?

How about corn cobs and old power poles?

Both those unconventional biofuel feedstocks are in the news today, with headlines from Montreal-based Enerkem and South Dakota-headquartered POET.

Let’s start with POET. A long-time ethanol producer, the company announced this week that it’s begun production of cellulosic ethanol from old corn cobs. The $8 million pilot facility in Scotland, South Dakota, has already churned out an inital 1,000-gallon batch of ethanol and is on track to pump out 20,000 gallons a year.

POET’s next step: Project LIBERTY. Not the latest cutesy name for a US military strategy in the Middle East, but a planned $200 million plant that’s expected to begin commercial production of cellulosic ethanol by 2011.

And then there’s Enerkem. The Canadian biofuel company gave word this week that it’s begun starting up a biofuel/biochemical production plant in Westbury near Montreal. Once the startup phase is completed, Enerkem says it will be “the first producer of liquid fuels and green chemicals to commercially use renewable, non-food, negative-cost feedstock.”

No corn-price collapse problem here. Enerkem’s feedstock of choice is used electricity poles, a source the company doesn’t have to pay for but actually gets paid to haul away. One tonne’s worth of poles can generate 360 litres of ethanol, the company says. Eventually, the plant is expected to produce 5 million litres of cellulosic ethanol per year.

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