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One man's trash turns into fuel

Posted on September 2, 2014 at 8:00 AM by Iowa Corn

Courtesy Jeff DeYoung, Iowa Farmer Today
Hamilton County farmer Mike Greenfield has provided corn residue to DuPont for the past several years as the company near completion of its cellulosic ethanol plant near Nevada. Greenfield farms near Jewell in North-Central Iowa.
JEWELL — Mike Greenfield has more than 80 percent of his corn residue contracted to DuPont for use in the company’s cellulosic ethanol plant.

If he had his way, all of it would be heading toward the plant in Nevada.

“I’ve always wondered how we can get rid of the massive amount of trash, and this is it,” says Greenfield, who farms near here in Hamilton County. “There’s no way to measure the yield loss we have had because of all the trash, and now we’re getting rid of a lot of it.”

Greenfield has planted corn continuously on his North-Central Iowa farm for 10 years. Three years ago, roughly 200 acres of residue was baled by DuPont. Last year, that amount climbed to 2,500 acres.

The company’s plant, located near Nevada, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Greenfield says the sturdiness of new corn hybrids has made it difficult to navigate the fields.

Courtesy Jeff DeYoung, Iowa Farmer Today
This cellulosic ethanol plant near Nevada is expected to be
completed by the end of the year. 
“The stalks are like trees, and it was a significant issue for us,” he says. “When I went to their first meeting I was like, how much can we sign up for?”

Greenfield says DuPont crews come in and bale and stack residue not long after harvest. Under the contract, the residue is to be removed from his farm by Feb. 1, but he says bales are always gone well before then.

“They leave enough trash on top to hold the soil, which can be an issue here with the winds we get in the winter,” Greenfield says. “We are seeing a significant reduction in the residue, and it was much easier to get into the fields this spring.”

DuPont has been collecting stover for the past few years as work on the plant rolls along, says John Pieper, who leads the stover team at DuPont.

He says most of the farmers are located within 30 miles of the plant.

“Last year, we harvested 61,000 acres with 275 growers,” Pieper says. “This year we want to take that up to 135,000 acres, and we have roughly two-thirds of that contracted already. We expect to see that grow substantially as harvest nears.”

He says DuPont is looking for farmers who have a long record of averaging 180 bushels per acre.

“We can get roughly 4.25 tons of stover per acre, so we are looking for farmers who are highly productive, and who farm on relatively flat ground,” Pieper says.

He says residue reduction is an attractive asset for most farmers.

“There is a lot of residue on those fields, and there are many farmers in this area who plant corn continuously,” Pieper says. “By removing some of the residue, that nitrogen is no longer tied up.”

Iowa’s other cellulosic ethanol plant will be running this fall, says Matt Merritt, director of public relations for Poet DSM. The company’s plant is located near Emmetsburg in Northwest Iowa.

He says Poet has contracted all the acres they need for 2014.

“Farmers will come in and bale the residue, then deliver to the plant throughout the year,” Merritt says. “We will use 285,000 tons of biomass annually in the plant.”

Most of the corn acres are located within a 45 mile radius of Emmetsburg, he says.

“It’s been a long process, but it’s been a very important project,” Merritt says. “We’re very excited that the plant is nearly complete.”

The two Iowa plants are trendsetters for the ethanol industry, says Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association.

“The future growth in the ethanol industry will be cellulosic technology,” he says. “The 2007 energy bill limited ethanol production from corn to 15 billion gallons, and we’re about there, but the law did create a tremendous marketing opportunity for new technology.”

Dinneen says there are other cellulosic ventures springing up around the country, and he expects that to continue for the foreseeable future.

“The refineries are trying to stop it because corn has already taken 10 percent of their barrel,” he says. “They don’t want to lose any more. That’s why the renewable fuel standard is so important, because it requires the refineries to use what we produce.”

Greenfield is excited to see what sort of yield impact the removal of the residue will have this year.

“The weather has been bad the last couple of years, so we really haven’t been able to tell what sort of yield bump we might get,” he says. “The crop looks very good this year, so it’s going to be fun to get into the fields and see what happens at harvest.”

By Jeff DeYoung, Iowa Farmer Today

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