The year is shaping up as pivotal for the ethanol industry, and a Kansas company has a major role in how things will turn out.
ICM Inc., based in Colwich, Kan., has been involved in designing and building more ethanol plants in North America than any other company. But those plants, including several in the region built over the last decade, have relied on turning corn into fuel.
The industry's future growth will depend on turning cellulose from a solid material — such as prairie grasses, wood and corn stalks — into liquid ethanol. Missouri and Kansas could be big sources of cellulose, with farmers growing switchgrass.
But it's not a simple transition. Companies across the country are trying to figure out the best way to produce the billions of gallons of ethanol that will be needed.
ICM's innovative approach — using the resources of a nearby corn ethanol plant — will get off the ground with a demonstration project being built this year in St. Joseph.
"We're confident that this is going to work," said Scott Kohl, technical director for ICM.
Technical improvements at the new plant are expected to boost the amount of ethanol produced from cellulose. But the real breakthrough could be in the development of a successful business model for an industry that is struggling with a credit squeeze and financial losses.
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