SCOTLAND, SD --- POET Research Center in Scotland, SD, is now producing cellulosic ethanol at a pilot scale, completing a crucial step toward development of commercially viable cellulosic ethanol.

The Scotland plant is producing ethanol at a rate of 20,000 gallons per year using corn cobs as feedstock. The $8 million endeavor is a precursor to the $200 million Project LIBERTY, a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant that will begin production in 2011, POET said.

"The start-up of the pilot-scale facility has been extremely smooth," said POET CEO Jeff Broin, who was in Scotland to announce the opening of the plant. "After producing 1,000 gallons, we've already been able to validate all of what we learned in the lab and believe the process will be ready for commercialization when we start construction on Project LIBERTY next year."

The pilot plant is the site of a 9-million-gallon-per-year starch ethanol production facility and a starch pilot facility. POET is pursuing an integrated starch- and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery model that could see cellulosic production capacity added to its 26 plants that currently produce 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol from corn per year.

The pilot project is the result of a significant investment in research by POET over the last eight years toward commercializing cellulosic ethanol. In 2008 alone, POET spent $20 million on research, doubling its research staff and tripling the size of its lab in Sioux Falls.

POET said its process provides the environmental benefits of cellulosic ethanol -- an 87-percent greenhouse gas reduction over gasoline, according to Argonne National Laboratory -- without having significant impact on the environment. Corn cobs, POET's feedstock, are safe to remove from the field. Cobs account for only 7.5 percent of the entire corn plant, according to Iowa State University. The USDA says cobs contain 2-3 percent of measured nutrients of the above-ground corn plant.

The company claims that corn and cellulosic ethanol together hold the potential to replace gasoline as the main transportation fuel of the nation. Cellulosic ethanol is required to become a greater part of the U.S. fuel supply, as mandated by the Renewable Fuels Standard.

Harvesting biomass has been a key challenge to commercializing cellulosic ethanol. Agricultural equipment manufacturers have worked closely with POET to provide farmers with cob-harvesting options that will be available soon.

To see a documentary about POET's pilot cellulosic ethanol plant, click here.