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Master of Agribusiness

The Economics of Corn Cob Cellulosic Ethanol for Northwest Iowa

William “B.J.” Schany, Emmetsburg, Iowa, defended his thesis, “The Economics of Corn Cob Cellulosic Ethanol for Northwest Iowa,” Tuesday, March 16, 2010. Schany is a Commodity Manager with POET in Emmetsburg, Iowa. He graduated from Kansas State University in May with a Master’s in Agribusiness (MAB).

The 2007 Energy Bill mandated the U.S. produce 36 billion gallons of ethanol to use as motor fuel by 2022 of which 21 billion gallons must be from cellulosic sources. Currently, the focus has been on producing ethanol from corn, but new technology is being developed to use alternate feedstock sources, including corn cobs.

Michael Woolverton, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics and Schany’s thesis advisor, said, “There has been a tremendous amount of interest in the production of cellulosic ethanol, but little practical research. B.J.’s thesis traces the progress of development of technology in gathering cellulose--corn cobs--to use in conversion to ethanol.”

POET is the largest ethanol producer in the world and has a network of 26 plants in seven states producing over one billion gallons of ethanol annually. They have partnered with the Department of Energy to develop methods to meet renewable fuels mandates and are building a production facility to be the first commercial cellulosic ethanol producer using corn cobs.

“There are several reasons POET has chosen corn cobs as a source: corn is being grown and the cobs are disposed of as waste, cobs are consistent in size, they have a higher ethanol yield than other parts of the waste, cobs have a greater bulk density making them easier to store and transport, farmers are willing to collect cobs, and they are a proven source of ethanol,” Schany said.

Schany evaluated methods of corn cob collection and has determined Midwestern farmers can financially benefit from collecting corn cobs for ethanol production, but the best method of collection is still being researched.

“New technologies to collect corn cobs will be developed making it an even better alternative feedstock source and more profitable for producers,” Schany said. “I think corn cobs will be future of cellulosic ethanol.”

The full thesis publication can be found online on K-State’s Research Exchange at http://hdl.handle.net/2097/14044.