12.17.2014 | printed in the Fall 2014 issue of VITAL magazine
On September 3, POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels commemorated the opening of Project LIBERTY in Emmetsburg, Iowa.
It was a day of great fanfare, celebration and optimism. But that hasn’t always been the case with Project LIBERTY. Since we embarked on the mission to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production, we have had our share of skeptics.
Most people thought we were crazy for taking on this venture. We heard “it can never be done.” “You’ll never get enough biomass from farmers.” “You won’t be cost competitive.” Some even said that cellulosic ethanol was a “fantasy fuel.”
But this wasn’t the first time we’ve been called “crazy.” As a matter of fact, POET wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t taken some of the risks that we’ve taken.
In the early ‘80s when my family built a small ethanol plant on our farm to get started in the ethanol business, there were definitely mutterings from the neighbors that the Broins were a little crazy.
And a few years later, when we mortgaged the farm to buy a foreclosed ethanol plant in Scotland, South Dakota, the neighbors who already thought we were a little off our rocker, now really thought we were nuts!
So, when we embarked on this new journey with Project LIBERTY, once again, there were more naysayers than supporters. But since we were pretty used to being called crazy, we of course moved ahead!
Opening the nation’s first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant is something I could never have dreamt of in the days when we were welding tanks together to build our farm plant. So even to me, Project LIBERTY was a fantasy. But now, it’s real!
Something of the scale, complexity and cutting-edge technology of this project can’t be done alone, or even by one company. Something of the magnitude of what Project LIBERTY represents takes the imagination, ingenuity and hard work of hundreds of organizations and thousands of people.
So the opening of Project LIBERTY marks the beginning. It is reason to celebrate and enjoy what has been accomplished. But it is just the very tip of the iceberg. This is only the start.
We are in the midst of what I believe is the foundation of what will be a complete transformation of our energy supply and our economy. This complete transformation from a fossil-based economy to a renewable economy may not be completed any time soon, but it will happen. It simply has to. The fact is: there is a finite supply of fossil fuels. No one really knows for sure exactly how much. But it is an undeniable fact that there is a limit.
So the world needs a solution. And the solution is here. When you combine seed, soil and sun, with imagination, and good old-fashioned hard work, there is nearly an infinite potential supply of both food and fuel.
For years now, companies like POET have used the starch from the kernel of corn to produce a clean fuel while supplying the world food in the form of distillers grains. Now we’re beginning to use other parts of the corn plant to make a renewable fuel and biogas as well.
Tomorrow, we may use residues from other crops, wood waste, grasses or even municipal waste. If you remember the movie Back to the Future II, Doc was able to fuel the DeLorean time machine with garbage. Well, that may not be so farfetched – your trash could actually become a fuel someday!
So Project LIBERTY is just the beginning.
I’m very proud of what we have accomplished to turn a fantasy into a reality. And I’m even more excited about what lies ahead.
Our history books tell us that when three ships sailed from the coast of Spain over 500 years ago, most people thought the captain was a crack-pot for thinking that the world wasn’t flat.
And when a couple bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio dreamed of manned flight over 100 years ago, most people thought they were nuts too.
And the thought of putting a man on the moon was still a bit of a fantasy fifty years ago.
But these people and these events changed the world. And it is my hope and my belief that hundreds of years from now, people will remember how some crazy people in a small town in Iowa changed the world in 2014.
Other Stories in this collection:
In Sight: A Little Crazy
by Jeff Broin, Executive Chairman and Founder of POET