10 Questions for Poet’s CEO Jeff Broin

Corn ethanol producer Poet is at an important juncture in its two decade history. The company is embracing the changing landscape of the biofuel market by investing in new cellulosic ethanol technology and building a $200 million plant dubbed Project Liberty in Emmetsburg, Iowa that will produce 125 million gallons per year of ethanol, of which 25 million gallons will be cellulosic made from corn waste. Later this year the company says it will start churning out cellulosic ethanol from a small pilot-scale facility in Scotland, S.D.

But is Poet being aggressive enough on cellulosic, and will it succeed in becoming a cellulosic ethanol player that will license its technology to other biofuel firms? That’s the company’s intention. But we wanted to know more details about what technology the company is using for cellulosic, and how important the cellulosic market is for Poet. So we asked. Here are 10 questions that Poet’s CEO Jeff Broin answered for us via email:

1). Poet’s strategy is to introduce cellulosic ethanol plants in conjunction with its sizable corn-based ethanol business. Do you ever see the company’s cellulosic ethanol business rivaling or surpassing the corn ethanol business in size and revenues, and if so, in what time frame?

We see both the corn-to-ethanol and the cellulose-to-ethanol processes coexisting and enhancing each other well into the future.
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Poet Grabs $14M from Iowa for Cellulosic Ethanol

The Iowa Power Fund, which doles out millions of dollars for clean power projects, has just made a $14.75 million commitment to help corn-ethanol maker Poet build its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the state. Add that to the $5.25 million from the Iowa Department of Economic Development, and the state has now pledged $20 million to help Poet build its cellulosic plant.

When fully completed the Emmetsburg, Iowa, plant (dubbed Project Liberty) will produce 125 million gallons per year of ethanol, of which 25 million gallons will be made from corn waste. The plant will need a total capital investment of more than $200 million, Poet says, and it will create at least 35 new jobs. Poet also says that the technology used for Project Liberty could be added onto its six other ethanol plants in Iowa, as well any biorefinery in the state — if that were the case the investment needed would total $2 billion and create 2,700 new jobs in Iowa.

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POET to Produce Cellulosic Ethanol By the End of the Year

POET, one of the larger producers of corn-based ethanol in the United States, says it will start churning out cellulosic ethanol by the end of the year. The company started construction on a $4 million pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Scotland, S.D., a few months ago, and now says that facility will be completed and operational within 2008. POET hopes the pilot-scale plant will help perfect the technology for a planned commercial scale plant named Project Liberty in Emmetsburg, Iowa, that will start construction in 2009.

The Sioux Falls, S.D.-based company’s announcement will likely make the numerous startups working on cellulosic ethanol a bit nervous, as one of the incumbent big players has set an aggressive time table. And POET has the advantage of being able to rely on its existing infrastructure of corn-based ethanol plants to move into the cellulosic game. The company is aiming to build its cellulosic plants adjacent to its existing corn-based plants, and will use waste corn cobs and corn kernel fibers from the adjacent plants to produce the cellulosic ethanol.
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YouTube to Get Olympics, But (Probably) Not for You

The Olympics will be officially shown on YouTube in an effort to preempt pirated online footage, the International Olympic Committee said today. But the eleventh-hour announcement only covers 77 territories “across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, including India, Republic of Korea, Nigeria and Indonesia” where the rights to the online broadcast have not already been sold.

The channel — which is to be geo-blocked to everyone else — will include highlights produced by the IOC’s broadcasting group.

It’s interesting that YouTube is being used as the default here. In the U.S., for instance, there will be much broader coverage available online, but users will have to download Microsoft’s Silverlight and wait for the events broadcast on TV to be posted after a delay. A simple YouTube channel seems like a much more lightweight option.

I’m sure YouTube will be screening and blocking additional uploads of the geo-blocked official channel’s footage, but it will be highly surprising (and unprecedented, in recent years) if the site doesn’t become a repository of all sorts of easier-to-access highlights as well.

In other online video-related Olympics news, Adobe said today it will help power the official Olympics video portal in China and Macau. We had noted last night that Brightcove KK is powering the Japanese equivalent.

11 Companies Racing to Build U.S. Cellulosic Ethanol Plants

There are almost a dozen companies racing to build the first next-generation cellulosic ethanol plants in the United States over the next few years. The plants will be built all over the U.S. and will churn out biofuels made from waste, plant byproducts and woody energy crops. It’s no easy task. Not only do these companies have to build pilot and demo plants, but ultimately large-scale, commercialized refineries that can take years to construct and require hundreds of millions of investment dollars.

While biofuels have been getting a bad rap lately, President Bush’s Twenty in Ten Initiative aims to increase the use of renewable and alternative fuels in the transportation sector to the equivalent of 35 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2017. These 11 companies are focusing on finding the right recipe to make the cellulosic ethanol production economically feasible. Good luck to them (per request from the comment section, we added in the tickers for the public companies):

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&s=AARTsJpaa1nqk3xOL7NlejvGN7AI_BhTWw&msa=0&msid=100024416568883817560.00044ec5904f61e2d8f5b&ll=42.032974,-93.164062&spn=45.39123,84.375&z=3&output=embed&w=480&h=350]

Verenium: The company is in the final stages of testing and evaluating its demo facility, which can produce 1.4 million gallons per year. Construction on the pilot plant began in February 2007. Japanese companies Marubeni and Tsukishima Kikai used Verenium’s technology to build a demo project that can produce 1.3 million liters (less than 350,000 gallons) per year in January 2007 in Osaka, Japan, with plans to scale it up to 4 million liters per year in 2008. The company is currently on track to start construction of a 30 million-gallon-per-year commercial U.S. plant in mid-2009. Verenium trades on the NASDAQ, ticker: VRNM.

Coskata: The company is currently producing cellulosic ethanol in its labs and plans to scale up a pilot project in Madison, Penn., to a 40,000-gallon-per-year demonstration facility that will start delivering ethanol by early 2009 and is projected to cost $25 million to build. Coskata says it’s working on a 100 million-gallon-per-year facility, in an undisclosed U.S. location, that it hopes will go online by early 2011. The startup has raised almost $30 million from Globespan Capital Partners, GM, Khosla Ventures, GreatPoint Ventures and Advanced Technology Ventures. Coskata’s technology first gasifies biomass into syngas and then adds proprietary microbes that turn the syngas into ethanol.
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Apps Like TwitterFone Signal the Future?

Business Week speculated on Why Twitter Matters, suggesting that its ‘large and vigorous developer community’ has already positioned the service as an innovative messaging platform.

Like other classic platform strategies, Twitter is not only providing a compelling user experience, but coupling this to a comprehensive developer toolkit.

Innovation on the Twitter platform continues with the recent launch of Cubic Telecom’s TwitterFone, a cute voice interface for Twitter, that enables users to record a short voice message using their cellphone, have the message transcribed to text and then twittered to the public timeline, including a link to the original voice message.

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Ethanol Deathwatch: POET Cancels Plant Plans

Record high oil prices aren’t enough to keep ethanol plants from getting the ax. POET Energy, an ethanol plant developer, has canceled plans for a plant in Glenville, Minn. (hat tip Greentech Media) POET says it pulled the plug on the plant due to permitting problems.

We’ve added the company’s recent cancellation to our Biofuels Deathwatch map.

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In December Pacific Ethanol (PEIX) said it was suspending the building of its Imperial Valley plant near Calipatria, Calif., “until market conditions improve.” And that month news came out that the plans for ethanol plants from Panda Ethanol and Renewable Agricultural Energy wouldn’t see the light of day, either. Earlier in October, BioFuel Energy Corp. (BIOF) and VeraSun (VSE) both said they would suspend construction of ethanol facilities as well.

With so much public scrutiny on the environmental effects of corn-based ethanol, the permitting process will likely not get any easier. And even companies that are building plants to produce non-food-based cellulosic ethanol will have to go through rigorous permitting processes. In addition to permitting issues, mounting construction costs are putting the squeeze on the margins of corn-based ethanol producers, leading companies to make tough choices — like cutting back on planned plants.

Is it Time For a Portable Dumb Terminal?

The dedicated web worker can do pretty much anything within the confines of a web browser these days: send and receive email, create and share documents, chat via various messenger services, update task lists and calendars, even (thanks to sites like Heroku or Bungee Connect) create entire applications. We can also, thanks to laptops and mobile phones and EVDO and WiFi and a batch of other technologies, work just about anywhere. But for me at least there’s a disconnect between the growing use of online applications and the technology that I’m using to access them on the road.

Thoughts on the HP 2133 UMPC

The rumors and photo flying around of the rumored HP sub-notebook, the 2133 if they are to be believed, have captured the attention of a lot of people.  Not since the first rumors started appearing back when about the Asus EEE PC have so many gotten excited about such a small notebook.  I have been soaking up everything I hear about the HP, which isn’t much, and have been giving a lot of thought about this (so far) imaginary device.  Here are my thoughts on it for what it’s worth.  If only HP would give us some real facts to work with then all this speculation could end.


Size.  Looking at the one lonely photo of the 2133 you can make some pretty safe assumptions on the overall size of the beast.  One cool design attribute is how HP has the entire width of the device taken up by the keyboard.  The keyboard goes right up to the edge of the device which is how they can get a near full-sized keyboard into this small notebook.  We can get a feel for the overall size of the device by looking at that screen and bezel.  The screen is reported to be 8.9" diagonal and in the photo it looks to be a wide-screen format.  This would place the screen width at the same size as the Fujitsu P1610/1620 which has the same size screen.  The Fujitsu has a fairly narrow bezel around that screen however and the picture of the HP indicates a good 1 inch bezel around the sides and top of the screen.  This would make the HP a bit wider and taller than the Fujitsu and how they can get a bigger keyboard on the device than the Fujitsu.

Screen.  Speaking about the screen it is interesting that the reports have HP putting a very high-res 1366×768 screen on the 8.9" screen.  The aforementioned Fujitsu runs at 1280×768 on the same size screen and the higher resolution on the HP will make stuff awfully small on the same sized screen.  I don’t think things will be too small to read but they will be awfully tight.  It is good to see a web cam on that photo of the HP and it looks to me like there are very big speakers on each side of the screen.  HP could be aiming this 2133 to be a very portable multimedia powerhouse if those speakers are indeed as they appear in the photo.

Processor.  A report has surfaced today that the HP will have a Via processor but frankly I hope not.  The Via processor is too anemic for a quality sub-notebook like this and while I realize HP’s goal will be to keep the price of this device as low as possible I don’t think they’d go the Via route.  At least I hope they don’t.  What I wouldn’t be surprised to see HP use is a low-cost AMD processor since they’ve been using these in other notebooks for some time.  This processor would give decent performance and still keep the cost much lower than an Intel processor.  Remember you saw that here first about the AMD processor because I believe this is what HP should use.  I hope they have a 2 GB memory option in any event so if they put Vista on the 2133 it will run it decently.

Price.  Rumors have surfaced that this new HP will be priced at the $600 range which may be true.  It’s hard to guess how cheaply HP will be able to sell such a device since it looks like it’s constructed so nicely.  One thing is certain though, the EEE PC has shown us that consumers will jump on a small notebook if the price is cheap enough and frankly $600 may not be.  I think there is something magical about the $400 price range of the Asus and HP better come close or they may have a slow mover on their hands.  The rumors have HP positioning the 2133 as a lifestyle companion device and it better be cheaper than $500 to reach that market.

Software.  HP is in a unique position to put some of their proprietary software on the 2133 and I hope they do so.  They have some good multimedia software they have put on recent notebooks like the tx2000 and this size device would be perfect for that.  To position the 2133 as a companion device I would also like to see them put some real simple sync software so that consumers can keep their documents synchronized with their main computer just by connecting them via USB.  This would cement the intended purpose of such a small notebook and HP would be very wise to make that easy to do out of the box.

All of this is pure speculation as HP is not officially sharing any information about the 2133.  Take if for what it’s worth, which is not much as this point.

Could Adobe AIR fill the MacWorld balloon?

Adobe_airThe jet lag from CES 2008 still hasn’t worn off, but maybe that’s a good thing. I woke up at 12:15 this morning feeling like I had a full night’s sleep, even though it was only a few hours of rest. Of course, the middle of the night is usually when I have my best thought of the day; yes, I only get one and that’s on a good day, so here’s today’s.The banners at MacWorld have this catchy little phrase: “There’s something in the air.” OK, it could be that we’ll see WiMAX-ready hardware coming out of Apple, but that might be a little premature. After all, Sprint won’t be rolling out WiMAX coverage until April or May and it’s going to take a while to blanket the country. We know that the Apple iPhone SDK is appearing by next month and that one of the grudges folks have with the device is the lack of Flash support. Could it be that the iPhone will support a light version Adobe AIR, just in time for the SDK release? Or maybe I just need more sleep… and a better thought for the day.