Archer Daniels Midland Co. (NYSE:ADM), Deere & Co. (NYSE:DE) and Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON) said Tuesday that they have teamed up to research and explore technologies for the harvesting, storage and transportation of corn stover for cellulosic ethanol.  

Corn stover includes the stalks, leaves and cobs of corn plants, and it is among the feedstocks being used by companies to produce large amounts of cellulosic ethanol affordably.

While many companies are figuring how to make the biofuel at a commercial scale, the partnership among ADM, Deere and Monsanto will focus on overcoming the challenges of getting the feedstock to biorefineries.

Current practices call for farmers to leave some of the corn stover on the field to help with erosion control and provide nutrients back into the soil. To sell the corn stover for ethanol production, farmers will have to determine how much corn stover can be diverted without causing erosion and nutrient problems. The three companies will also look to identify the best methods and technologies for transporting the feedstock, which can be weighed down by moisture, and for storing it.

The trio's findings will also support the infrastructure for corn stover's other uses, such as animal feed or an energy source for making steam and electricity.

The companies didn't disclose the amount each plans to invest in research and development investments, ADM spokesman David Weintraub said.

Cellulosic-ethanol advocates say the technology to make ethanol from materials like switchgrass, wood chips and corn stover could significantly boost the amount of the fuel that can be made without competing with crops for food.

Feedstock costs account for between 35 percent and 50 percent of the total ethanol production costs, according to a 2007 study by the Idaho National Laboratory researchers.

The United States Department of Agriculture forecasts that in 2008, farmers will harvest 12.3 billion bushels of corn, resulting in approximately 290 million tons of stover, according to ADM. This is not the first time that these three companies have explored the cellulosic ethanol market.

Earlier this month, ethanol producer Poet told Greentech Media it was working with Deere to develop farm equipment for picking up corncobs to turn into cellulosic ethanol (see Poet to Produce Cellulosic Ethanol This Year).

The equipment most farmers use today harvests the grain of the corn and leaves the cobs in the field.

In April, Monsanto said its technology for developing high-yield crops would be used by Mendel Biotechnology to create grass seeds for making biofuel. And ADM and Purdue University have been working together to commercialize yeast that helps convert cellulosic materials into ethanol.

In other industry related news, cellulosic ethanol technology developer SunEthanol said Tuesday it was wrapping up its second round of financing.

"We hope to close in September," said Jon Gorham, director of business development and co-founder of SunEthanol.

Gorham decline to disclose the amount of the investment.

However, SunEthanol's CEO William Frey told Greentech Media in June that the he was working on securing $20 million in funding (see Q&A: SunEthanol CEO William Frey).

Frey said the money would go toward expanding the company's research and development and to help build a pilot plant in 2009.

SunEthanol technology uses microbes to allow ethanol producers to skip the expensive step of using enzymes to breakdown biomass into sugars before fermenting them into fuels.

The company also said Tuesday that it would work with the biotech organization MBI International to bring SunEthanol's technology from lab to market.

MBI will work with SunEthanol to determine the best microbes and processes for turning corn stover into ethanol. The terms of the partnership were not disclosed.