DuPont to Build World-Class Biofuel Refinery in Central Iowa

DuPont’s construction site in Nevada, Iowa

DuPont has broken ground on a $200 million biofuel refinery in Nevada, Iowa. Expected to be completed in mid-2014, the facility will be among the world’s first and largest commercial-scale cellulosic biorefineries.

DuPont, the world’s third largest chemical company by market capitalization, says its new facility will generate 30 million gallons annually of cellulosic ethanol, an entirely renewable energy source.

Cellulosic ethanol avoids many of the pitfalls that have led critics to lambaste starch ethanol. Made directly from corn, starch ethanol drives up prices for staple foods like corn, and often fails to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, critics say.

The new DuPont facility will produce cellulosic ethanol from corn stover residues, a non-food feedstock consisting of corn stalks and leaves. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the process for producing cellulosic ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 85 percent.

“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, a division of the company that addresses biofuels. “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.”

Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and DuPont’s Collins raise the flag on the future site of DuPont cellulosic ethanol facility

Joining Mr. Collins to celebrate the groundbreaking on the new facility was Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Governor Branstad said Iowa leads the United States in the production of renewable fuel.

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

DuPont estimates that the facility will produce 60 full-time jobs, and an additional 150 people will help with the collection, stacking, transportation and storage of the stover feedstock seasonally during each harvest.

Iowa leads the country in corn production, accounting for just shy of 20 percent of the U.S. total. DuPont will contract with over 500 local farmers to gather, store and deliver over 375,000 dry tons of corn stover per year to the facility, reducing waste and providing additional benefit for farmers.

“Many of us who have participated in the stover harvest program with DuPont are already seeing the benefits of this alternative residue management strategy including positive effects on grain yields the following year on our fields,” said Jim Hill, a farmer whose corn stover will be used to supply DuPont’s biorefinery.

Corn stover, the cellulosic material that will be the feedstock of DuPont’s future biorefinery

Leftover corn stover can interfere with planting, monopolize nitrogen in the soil, and harbor damaging insects, pathogens and pests. The DuPont facility provides farmers a profitable outlet through which to dispose of their stover.

“We’re excited to work with DuPont to supply stover to this new biorefinery, partner to discover new markets for our products and co-products and develop new crop production techniques based on the opportunity to manage residues through partial stover removal,” added Mr. Hill.

While the 30 million gallons of biofuel that the facility expects to produce pales in comparison to the some 140 billion gallons of gasoline that the United States consumes annually, the facility does represent a step in the right direction for sustainable energy production. Regional businesses and academic institutions have already expressed interest in replacing portions of their coal-fired operations with biofuel from the DuPont refinery.

“We are excited to explore the various synergies between Lincolnway and DuPont that bring value to both companies,” said Jeff Taylor, Chairman of Lincolnway Energy, a local producer of grain ethanol. “One area is the possibility of using DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol co-product to replace our coal usage.”

Lincolnway’s plant produces 50 million gallons per year of fuel grade ethanol, but the plant itself is powered by coal, cancelling out much of the plant’s potential environmental benefit.

“We strive to continually improve our operations and environmental impact,” said Mr. Taylor. “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.”

DuPont’s announcement of the new facility came just one day after the company released its annual Sustainability Progress Report, which marked the 20th year that DuPont has reported on its progress against sustainability goals.

Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens

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