DuPont: Collaborations key in building 30 MMgy cellulosic plant

By Holly Jessen | November 30, 2012

DuPont’s 30 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility currently under construction in Nevada, Iowa, is the culmination of 10 years of work. “It has been quite a journey,” Jim Collins, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences told Ethanol Producer Magazine.

DuPont kicked off construction on Nov. 30 with a groundbreaking celebration. The more than $200 million facility, which will be located adjacent to Lincolnway Energy LLC, a 60 MMgy corn-ethanol plant, is expected to be built in 18 months. “We expect the heaviest activity to occur in the mid-2013 timeframe and by mid- to late 2014 we expect to be operating,” Collins said.

Several valuable collaborations assisted DuPont in its journey to building the commercial-scale cellulosic plant. The list includes the State of Iowa, Lincolnway, the University of Tennessee and Iowa State University. “It’s a big day for DuPont and we’re out there talking about DuPont’s new facility but it really takes an amazing collaboration of a lot of folks to come together to pull something like this off,” he said. “We’re just grateful to be part of that group.”

DuPont selected Fagen Inc. as construction contractor on the project. The company, which built many of the existing first generation grain-ethanol plants, is part of the reason Collins believes that’s feasible. “They know this industry and understand the challenges that are involved,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in not only them but the timeline that we have laid out.”

In the last two years DuPont has focused on finalizing equipment design through work at its 200,000 gallon per year pilot plant, in operation at the University of Tennessee, located in Vonore, Tenn. The company optimized its enzyme technology and equipment, bringing capital cost down to $7 per gallon of installed capacity. “When the first [ethanol plants] were built, they were in a similar range,” Collins said. “But clearly over the last decade, as we have become much more experienced with designing and building the first generation of plants, that number came down very dramatically. We expect the same thing to happen. This is sort of a starting point at $7 a gallon but we have plans to bring that down even further.”

DuPont also spent three years working with local Iowa farmers, designing and testing a supply chain to bring corn stover to the plant gate. That’s a critical part of the work the company has done to prepare for today’s groundbreaking, he said.

The company’s optimization work also allowed it to raise the plant’s capacity from the 28.5 MMgy it had originally aimed for, to 30 MMgy. DuPont will be offering its integrated system, from equipment and enzyme technology, to supply chain plans, for license globally. The fact that it’s a package deal is a key difference between DuPont and other cellulosic technology offerings, Collins said, comparing it to multiple companies coming together to build a computer with different branded parts. “In the case of DuPont, our offering is more like the Apple computer,” he said. “It’s fully integrated.”

Building the plant next to Lincolnway will benefit both parties. First, the companies will share infrastructure, such as rail spurs, utilities, storage and more. Another advantage is that the corn-ethanol plant—which is currently coal-fired—will be able to utilize lignin, DuPont’s coproduct from cellulosic ethanol production, for its power generation needs. “They are going to displace essentially 100 percent of their coal and use lignin in its place,” Collins said.

Although the company is still crunching the numbers on exactly how much lignin it expects to produce, it is looking into additional lignin customers as well. Some possible examples include area municipalities, universities or power companies.