Grant to aid ICM ethanol project

12/05/2009 12:00 AM

12/05/2009 12:08 AM

Colwich-based ICM will receive a $25 million federal grant to modify its existing corn ethanol plant in St. Joseph, Mo., to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and energy sorghum.

ICM will invest $6.27 million in the project.

The biorefinery project is one of 19 in 15 states to receive a total of $564 million in grant money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The purpose is to validate refining technologies and help lay a foundation for full commercial-scale development of a biomass industry in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Energy said.

"Advanced biofuels are critical to building a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system in the U.S.," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The projects were selected in an effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, spur creation of a domestic bio-industry and boost jobs in rural areas, the DOE said.

ICM's project will be a pilot program to take laboratory and small-scale work to a larger scale.

For example, the project will be used to validate work done in laboratory test tubes and to perform tests that are difficult or impossible to do in a laboratory setting, said Scott Kohl, ICM's technical director for research and development.

For example, "you can't do mixing very well in a test tube," Kohl said.

The testing will be done on three feedstocks — switchgrass, energy sorghum and captive fibers, such as corn fiber.

Energy sorghum is specifically bred to produce extremely high biomass yields as well as traits that allow for processing into ethanol.

The company will build a site next to its existing facility in St. Joseph that produces food, ethanol and

distillers' grains from corn. Locating the facility there will reduce costs, Kohl said.

The project will take five years, he said.

After an administrative and construction phase, ICM will spend about three years testing theories to see whether they will work on a large scale.

The performance will determine whether a commercial facility would be feasible. That also will depend on the market and the ability to attract investors, Kohl said.

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