DuPont Breaks Ground On Iowa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant

Ethanol made from corn stover will be produced at commercial facility being built in central Iowa.

Published on: Dec 5, 2012

DuPont came one step closer to commercializing advanced biofuels when the company broke ground November 30 on its cellulosic ethanol manufacturing plant at Nevada, Iowa. Completion is expected by mid-2014. The $200 million facility will be among the first and largest commercial-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the world.

The new plant will produce 30 million gallons annually of ethanol from corn stalks, leaves and other plant material. The crop residue will be baled and delivered to the plant. "The stover will be gathered from cornfields within approximately a 30-mile radius of the plant," said Jim Collins, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences. "It will be purchased from the farmers we contract with and will be stored at the plant."

ENERGY CROP: Bales of corn residue sit on the site where DuPont broke ground November 30 to build a cellulosic ethanol plant near the town of Nevada, Iowa. The site is adjacent to Lincolnway Energys corn grain ethanol plant. Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony (from left): Jan Koninckx, global business director for DuPont; Jim Collins, president, DuPont Industrial Biosciences; Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.
ENERGY CROP: Bales of corn residue sit on the site where DuPont broke ground November 30 to build a cellulosic ethanol plant near the town of Nevada, Iowa. The site is adjacent to Lincolnway Energy's corn grain ethanol plant. Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony (from left): Jan Koninckx, global business director for DuPont; Jim Collins, president, DuPont Industrial Biosciences; Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

The development of cellulosic ethanol is crucial to help meet the amount of U.S. biofuel production called for in the federal Renewable Fuels Standard, a law which effectively limits the amount of ethanol made from corn grain to 18 billion gallons per year by 2020. The rest of the ethanol the U.S. produces will have to come from other sources, such as cellulose from crop residue, grasses or wood biomass.

CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY: Construction has begun on DuPonts commercial cellulosic ethanol plant near Nevada, Iowa. It is being built next to an existing corn grain ethanol plant (in background) owned by Lincolnway Energy. Once fully operational, the new facility will produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. DuPont officials say the fully integrated end-to-end production system will be available to license globally to other companies who want access to the technology to produce cellulosic ethanol.
CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY: Construction has begun on DuPont's commercial cellulosic ethanol plant near Nevada, Iowa. It is being built next to an existing corn grain ethanol plant (in background) owned by Lincolnway Energy. Once fully operational, the new facility will produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. DuPont officials say the fully integrated end-to-end production system will be available to license globally to other companies who want access to the technology to produce cellulosic ethanol.

The RFS requires 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol to be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply in 2012. The total volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into the U.S. motor fuel supply is 36 billion gallons by 2022.

Making ethanol from crop residue instead of grain avoids food vs. fuel argument

The 30 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol to be produced by the new facility in central Iowa is more capacity than original estimates called for. "Data from our pilot plant facility in Tennessee has allowed us to further optimize our process and technology," said Collins.

The DuPont facility in central Iowa is the company's first commercial plant and will require a capital investment of about $7 per gallon of annual capacity. "Nearly a decade ago, DuPont set out to develop innovative technology that would result in low capital and low-cost cellulosic ethanol production," he said. "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."

This plant is next critical step in making advanced biofuels a reality

"By leveraging DuPont Pioneer's corn production expertise and designing an integrated technology platform, we've built an affordable and sustainable entry point into this new industry," said Collins. "We're committed to continued productivity gains to drive costs down even further for the coming generations of cellulosic ethanol plants--ones based on corn stover as well as other feedstocks. Of course, we didn't get to this point alone. We've built an incredible partnership with the state of Iowa, Iowa State University, entrepreneurial farmers and a whole host of partners around the country who share our vision of making renewable fuels a commercial reality."

At the ground-breaking ceremony, DuPont officials were joined by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and other state and local officials to celebrate the beginning of construction on the new cellulosic facility. The ceremony was held at the construction site adjacent to Lincolnway Energy, a traditional ethanol plant that uses corn grain as feedstock. Lincolnway, a 50 million gallon per year dry mill ethanol plant, is fired by coal and locally owned by farmers and other central Iowa citizens—a total of around 900 people.

What is the agricultural impact of harvesting this "new crop"?

To supply the corn stover for its plant, DuPont will contract with more than 500 local farmers to gather, store and deliver over 375,000 dry tons of stover per year into the Nevada facility. In addition to the estimated 60 full-time plant operations jobs, there will be over 150 people involved in the collection, stacking, transportation and storage of the stover feedstock seasonally during each harvest. The stover will be collected from an approximate 30 mile radius around the new facility and harvested off of 190,000 acres.

DuPont Breaks Ground On Iowa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant

ETHANOL FROM CORN STOVER: DuPont on November 30 broke ground on its cellulosic ethanol facility at Nevada, Iowa. Expected to be completed in mid-2014, this $200 million facility will be among the first and largest commercial-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the world. 

For many corn growers, crop residue management is a major challenge when maximizing their potential grain yield, pointed out Paul Schickler, president of DuPont Pioneer, the seed company. Too much corn residue on the field interferes with planting, delays the establishment of corn stands in the spring, monopolizes nitrogen in the soil and often harbors damaging insect pests and pathogens. "But not all of the corn stover will be harvested for cellulosic ethanol," said Schickler. "Some stover from the corn crop is left on the field to protect the soil from erosion."

For past three years DuPont has worked with local farmers on the project

For the past three years DuPont has been working with a number of farmers located in the vicinity of the Nevada plant, studying and developing the best ways to harvest, handle, transport and store the crop residue. Efficiency in harvesting and handling and maintaining the quality of stover as a feedstock are the goals.

"Many of us who have participated in the stover harvest program with DuPont are already seeing benefits of this alternative crop residue management strategy. That includes seeing positive effects on grain yields the following year after the crop residue is removed from on our fields," said Jim Hill, a corn grower from nearby Ellsworth, Iowa. His corn stover, along with that of other farmers in the program, will be used to help supply DuPont's new biorefinery.  

Hill added, "We are excited to work with DuPont to supply corn stover to this new biorefinery, to partner with them to discover new markets for our products and co-products and to develop new crop production techniques based on the opportunity to manage crop residues through partial stover removal from the fields."

Collins says DuPont will further adapt its cellulosic ethanol technology to use additional types of feedstocks. The company is already processing switchgrass in the testing facility it owns jointly with the University of Tennessee near Knoxville, Tenn.