POET, the world’s largest ethanol producer, plans to break ground on its first cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, later this year.

The company will participate in a plan to produce 3.5 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year by 2022 — an announcement chief executive officer Jeff Broin recently made at the National Press Club in Washington.

POET will add the cellulosic technology to its existing network of 26 corn-based ethanol plants to produce 1 billion gallons of cellulosic fuel, and it will license that technology to other corn-based ethanol producers to produce another 1.4 billion gallons of the fuel.

Another 1.1 billion gallons will come from a wide variety of feedstocks from across the country, produced by POET or through POET Biomass, which provides logistical support to other producers.

It has been a big month for the South Dakota-based company. President Barack Obama visited an ethanol plant in Macon, Mo., on April 20 to discuss the importance of ethanol and renewable fuels, and the coalition’s representatives announced a television campaign at the Indiana Statehouse just weeks before.

“By 2022, POET plans to be responsible for 3.5 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol production by adding the technology to our existing facilities, licensing our technology to other producers and, finally, transferring our technology to other forms of biomass such as wheat straw, switch grass and municipal waste,” Broin said.

He said there is a role for policymakers to play in overcoming the remaining hurdles to commercializing cellulosic ethanol production.

“In order for this vision to become a reality, policymakers must provide access to the market and the stability needed to attract the large amount of capital that will be required to finance its construction,” he said.

POET submitted its application for a loan guarantee with the U.S. Department of Energy and looks forward to prompt approval so the company can stay on schedule, Broin said.

“We filed an application with the DOE this morning and need to have a favorable ruling from them this calendar year,” the CEO added. “If we get that favorable ruling, we told the DOE that we will start construction by the end of this year, which puts us on track to start up the facility in early 2012.”

“Cellulose is the most common organic compound on the face of the earth, and once we figure out how to produce ethanol from it, the potential sources of feedstock are virtually unlimited in geographic location and amount,” said POET public relations director Nathan Schock. “Today, ethanol production is largely limited to the Midwest, but once the cellulosic ethanol production is commercially viable, ethanol can be produced in all 50 states.”

Project LIBERTY is a 25-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant using corn cobs as feedstock. POET plans to begin construction on the plant this year, co-locating it with POET’s current grain-ethanol plant at the site.

POET’s pilot-scale plant in Scotland, S.D., already is producing cellulosic ethanol at a rate of about 20,000 gallons per year.

Cellulosic ethanol has been a highly-discussed renewable fuel in Indiana for some time.

“Because they are the same final product, cellulosic ethanol and corn ethanol are tied together,” Schock said. “Without corn ethanol, there would be no cellulosic ethanol. The infrastructure that has been built for corn ethanol is the same infrastructure that will transport and utilize cellulosic ethanol.”

“POET is developing a plant that bolts the cellulosic ethanol production process onto the corn ethanol production process, making both more efficient,” he added. “The lignin leftover from the cellulose will be used to generate power for both the cellulosic and the corn ethanol production process, eliminating the use of fossil fuel at the site.”