DuPont's cellulosic celebration

The proof-of-concept facility in Nevada, Iowa, is expected to unlock opportunities in biomass conversion around the world. This article appears in the December issue of EPM.
By Tim Portz | November 11, 2015

On a crisp October morning under cloudless skies, William Feehery, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences gestured to tanks and pipes sitting just beyond a tractor trailer filled with rectangular corn stover bales. “The ripple effect of what you see behind me will be felt all over the world,” he said, thanking the audience for joining DuPont in the celebration of the opening of what is now the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol production facility.

At full capacity, the facility will convert nearly 700,000 bales of corn stover into 30 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol. The plant is the culmination of the company’s effort to commercialize cellulosic ethanol, which began in partnership with the U.S. DOE in 2000.  “It’s been a long time coming and we’re proud it’s here,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad.

DuPont’s challenge now is to bring the facility up to full throttle, a process Jan Koninckx, global business director for biorefineries, DuPont Industrial Biosciences, likened to the shakedown cruise new naval vessels typically take. “We have done this many times before at DuPont, bringing new technologies online,” he said. “At the same time we know that there is inherently a degree of uncertainty in a first plant. When you start up a third or fourth of fifth plant you can predict this much more accurately. We expect the first shipments to come in 2016.”

The grand opening was as much of a rally for the renewable fuel standard (RFS) as it was a celebration of the completion of the facility, as the uncertainty swirling around policy is already impacting DuPont’s licensing prospects in the United States. “I think it gets back to what we’ve been talking about relative to the RFS,” said Feehery, adding, “interest in the United States is a little bit stalled.” However, he continued, there was growing interest globally and the company had signed a licensing agreement in China.

Once operational, the gallons produced at the facility will be shipped to California where the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard offers a premium for fuel with significantly reduced carbon intensity. In conclusion, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley observed proudly that DuPont’s new facility would offer the world new ethanol gallons, “without using a single additional bushel of corn or a single additional acre of land.”

Author: Tim Portz
Executive Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine