Advanced Cellulosic Biofuel

Advanced Cellulosic Biofuel

DuPont celebrated, at the end of October, the opening of its cellulosic biofuel facility —  the largest in the world — in Nevada, IA.

Advanced Cellulosic Biofuels

The DuPont Iowa biorefinery is the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant, with the capacity to produce 30 million gallons per year of clean fuel that offers a 90 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline. The raw material used to produce the ethanol is corn stover – the stalks, leaves and cobs left in a field after harvest.

Making Liquid Fuel from Switchgrass and Leftover Corn Stalks (stover)

Advanced cellulosic biofuels made from switchgrass and leftover corn stalks are dramatically greener than first-generation alternatives made from corn, according to a new analysis commissioned by the Environmental Working Group, said FuelFix Tuesday.

After years of waiting, farmers and industry experts watched as DuPont opened its first cellulosic ethanol production facility in Iowa.

DuPont held a grand opening at the plant October 30. The event featured a number of public officials and ethanol supporters, as well as company officials.

The facility that is expected to process 375,000 tons of corn stover each year (about one half-ton bale each minute) to produce about 30 million gallons of ethanol a year.

While corn-based ethanol production has become common in Iowa and surrounding corn-producing states, cellulosic ethanol production has been slow to get started. Poet-DSM opened a facility using corn stover in Emmetsburg last year and Quad County Processors has opened a cellulosic facility using more of the corn kernel, but this new facility from DuPont is the largest one to open thus far.

SOURCE: Canadian Biomass Magazine
SOURCE: Canadian Biomass Magazine

The original company idea was not to become a large cellulosic ethanol producer, but instead to build a model plant and then license the technology. Thus far, that effort has been slow in the United States, in part due to changes in the federal Renewable Fuels Standard and a more challenging market situation. But DuPont officials say they have licensed the technology in China and are looking at possible arrangements in other parts of the world.

The process of making cellulosic material into ethanol is more difficult than using corn, DuPont officials say. There are more steps in the process. Corn stover or other types of cellulosic material are also bulkier and more difficult to transport and store than corn.

The DuPont facility differs from other cellulosic facilities now in use in that it uses a bacterium instead of yeast in the manufacturing process.

Unlike corn ethanol facilities, a cellulosic facility does not have feed co-products. But Jan Koninckx, global business director for DuPont Biofuels, says the Nevada facility is very energy efficient, and water used in the facility is all recycled.

Meanwhile, government officials praised the facility and expressed hope cellulosic ethanol production will now start to take off.     Vital to the supply chain and the entire operation of the Nevada biorefinery are close to 500 local farmers, who will provide the annual 375,000 dry tons of stover needed to produce this cellulosic ethanol from within a 30-mile radius of the facility. In addition to providing a brand-new revenue stream for these growers, the plant will create 85 full-time jobs at the plant and more than 150 seasonal local jobs in Iowa.

Environmental Working Group Report

The Environmental Working Group paper could add fuel to their argument that the RFS is too reliant on corn-based ethanol, instead of sophisticated next-generation alternatives that have been tougher to commercialize.

“When the renewable fuel standard was established, corn ethanol was touted as being cleaner than gasoline, but 10 years later we know it’s just the opposite,” said Emily Cassidy, an Environmental Working Group research analyst who authored the paper. “It’s time to break up the corn ethanol monopoly to make room for next-generation biofuels that could reduce carbon emissions.”

Supporters of the current law — including Corn Belt lawmakers — note that some of the next-generation biofuels now in production are being manufactured by the same companies that produce traditional ethanol derived from corn.

The corn-based ethanol business can improve the economics of their next-generation biofuels production. Tinkering with the renewable fuel standard to advantage next-generation alternatives at the expense of traditional corn-based biofuels could jeopardize that business model.

DuPont’s achievement provides the technology that will transform the U.S. fuel supply enabling a transition to fulfill the original cellulosic ethanol volume targets as Congress intended when it passed the Renewable Fuel Standard, a regulation established in 2005 to encourage growth and investment in sustainable fuel solutions. Earlier this month, DuPont and America’s Renewable Future released new poll findings that suggested Iowa caucus-goers from both parties – 61 per cent of Republicans and 76 per cent of Democrats – would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports the Renewable Fuel Standard and renewable fuels.

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