DuPont cellulosic feedstock storage area experiences fire

By Erin Voegele | August 10, 2016

On Aug. 5, a lightning strike caused a fire at a feedstock storage area a few miles from DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. An estimated 10,000 bales of corn stover were lost, but the facility itself was unaffected.

Jan Koninckx, global biofuels director at DuPont, said the fire was caused by lightning, a natural event. He stressed that the incident took place several miles from the cellulosic plant, and noted DuPont has worked with local emergency responders to prepare for such an event. Koninckx also stressed the feedstock loss would not impact facility operations.

According to Koninckx, DuPont has been working to minimize the risk associated with this type of event. He indicated that feedstock storage and the potential for natural events like this lightning strike are part of working in the cellulosic biofuel industry. We are learning how to reduce the risk of this type of event over time, he said, noting DuPont is looking at how to best build a stack of bales and how to space them.

“It’s a matter of us finding way to economically reduce the risk,” Koninckx said, adding that DuPont has reached out to a number of government organizations to recommend research be conducted on the topic of biomass storage. It’s not just an issue that impacts cellulosic biofuel producers, he stressed. Rather, the issue is one that generally impacts agriculture. Research findings would benefit to anyone stacking hay in a field, including farmers not active in the cellulosic biofuel space.

Regarding operations at the cellulosic plant itself, Koninckx said the facility is continuing shakeout activities. The facility celebrated its grand opening in October 2015. Since that time, commissioning activities have been ongoing. While the company wants to make the facility fully operation as quickly as possible, Koninckx said DuPont’s first priority is to start up the facility in a manner that puts safety for employees and equipment first. During the current shakeout phase all the plant systems and equipment are undergoing testing. According to Koninckx, feedstock will be pushed all the way through the plant once the company is confident workers and equipment will be fully safe and protected during operations. A full crew is onsite working through commissioning.