DuPont breaks ground on Iowa commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant

DuPont broke ground Friday on the company's planned cellulosic ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa.

Expected to be completed in mid-2014, the more than $200 million facility will be among the first and largest commercial-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the world. 

“Nearly a decade ago, DuPont set out to develop innovative technology that would result in low capital and low-cost cellulosic ethanol production," said James C. Collins, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences. "We recognized that science-powered innovation was the catalyst to make cellulosic ethanol a commercial reality and to help reduce global dependence on fossil fuels."

The new facility is expected to generate 30 million gal/year of cellulosic biofuel produced from corn stover residues, a non-food feedstock that consists of corn stalks and leaves.

That represents more capacity than original estimates called for, as data derived from the company's piloting facility in Tennessee has allowed it to further optimize the process and technology, according to company officials. 

This first commercial facility will require a capital investment of about $7/gal of annual capacity, the company said.

“By leveraging DuPont Pioneer corn production expertise and designing an integrated technology platform, we’ve built an affordable and sustainable entry point into this new industry," Mr. Collins added.

"We’re committed to continued productivity gains to drive costs down even further for the coming generations of plants, ones based on corn stover as well as other feedstocks.

Collins was joined by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to celebrate the official beginning of construction at a ceremony held at the construction site adjacent to the Lincolnway Energy grain ethanol facility.

“During my previous terms as governor, we were excited to bring ethanol production to the state," said Branstad. "After many hard years of work by Iowa growers and technology companies like DuPont, Iowa now leads the country in renewable fuel production.

"This site in Nevada is the next critical step in our cellulosic ethanol journey. We look forward to bringing these advanced technologies online, creating local jobs and helping to deliver clean, sustainable energy.”

To supply the corn stover for its plant, DuPont will contract with more than 500 local farmers to gather, store and deliver over 375,000 dry tpy of stover into the Nevada facility, the company says. 

In addition to the estimated 60 full-time plant operations jobs, there will be over 150 individuals involved in the collection, stacking, transportation and storage of the stover feedstock seasonally during each harvest. The stover will be collected from an approximate 30 mile radius around the new facility and harvested off of 190,000 acres.

From a safety standpoint, the company notes that an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) compliant, peer reviewed life cycle assessment of the DuPont biorefinery and supply chain indicates a potential greater than 100% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to gasoline. 

The significant GHG reduction is enabled by use of cellulosic co-products as a source of renewable energy. As such, the DuPont biorefinery co-product is a material that can displace coal in facilities currently burning this fossil fuel.

Officials say regional businesses and academic institutions have already indicated interest in exploring the potential use of the renewable co-products to replace portions of their coal-fired operations.

“We are excited to explore the various synergies between Lincolnway and DuPont that bring value to both companies," said Lincolnway Energy chairman Jeff Taylor.

"One area is the possibility of using DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol co-product to replace our coal usage. Replacing our fossil fuels with this renewable cellulosic ethanol co-product to generate heat and power makes great sense.  It is generated right next door, would reduce our coal usage and the transportation costs of shipping coal cars almost a thousand miles.”

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