The $4 million pilot plant at the company's research center in Scotland, S.D., will produce about 20,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, said Jeff Broin, Poet's chief executive.
Broin, speaking by telephone Wednesday during a news conference from the American Coalition for Ethanol conference in Omaha, Neb., said the company in recent months has been able to achieve significant ethanol from biomass and its methods of corn cob gathering.
"Due to these advances, I can tell you that I'm ore sure of the future of cellulosic ethanol than I've ever been before," Broin said. "I can stand here confidently before you today and say that it is no longer a question of if we can produce cellulosic ethanol, but when."
"I don't know if I could have said that even one year ago."
To commercialize the technology, privately held Poet plans to expand its plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, to produce 125 million gallons of ethanol per year --25 percent from corn cobs and fiber.
The $200 million project is part of a U.S. Department of Energy program spurred by the Bush administration's goal of making cellulosic ethanol competitive by 2012. The department in 2007 awarded $385 million to six companies hoping to build the nation's first large biomass-to-fuel plants.
Poet expects its commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa to be running by 2011.
Poet, which has been making ethanol from corn for more than 20 years, operates 23 plants that collectively can pump out more than 1.3 billion gallons of the alternative fuel each year.