The nation's first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant - Project Liberty - opened on September 3, 2014, in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The facility is the first of two major cellulosic plants in Iowa. Project Liberty will utilized waste corn leaves, stalks and cobs to produce 25 million gallons of ultra-low carbon cellulosic ethanol each year.
Cellulosic ethanol is made from the woody and fibrous parts of plants, including corn cobs, stalks, leaves and other residue. It's more difficult to work with than corn kernels because scientists had to figure out a way to break lignin — the tough fibers that plants have developed through evolution to make stems, trees and corn stalks stiff — from the cellulose. They must then extract the plant's sugars and convert them into ethanol.
It has taken the industry decades of research and billions of dollars to develop the process.
The industry has promised in recent years that commercial production was near and the government continued to include cellulosic ethanol in its required renewable fuels standard each year, only to find the industry wasn't ready to make it in large quantities. Naysayers cast doubt on whether cellulosic ethanol was even possible.
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