Fire Is Big Enemy of Stored Cellulosic Ethanol Feedstock

DuPont cellulosic ethanol plant at Nevada, Iowa, has seen two fires; one accidental and one lightning strike.

Published on: Oct 31, 2013

John Pieper, the DuPont official in charge of procuring feedstock for the DuPont cellulosic ethanol plant at Nevada, Iowa, told reporters attending the fall convention of the North American Agricultural Journalists in Des Moines in October that fire is a real risk for cellulosic plants.

He shared a few details of a Memorial Day fire at the Iowa plant site. He said the fire risk comes from three directions, accidental, arson and lightning.

The Nevada site has experienced two fires, one accidental and one lightning-generated, he said, and both provided valuable lessons.

Lessons learned

What DuPont learned, he said, is that you need to stack stover in modules, any one of which can be considered expendable. The goal is to place them far enough apart that one stack does not cause the ignition of another – no small feat considering corn stover fires in Nevada reached measured temperatures as high as 1,580 degrees Farenheit.

FIRE DANGER: Huge stockpiles like this one of baled corn stover at the Abengoa cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton are vulnerable to fire, either by accident, arson or lightning strikes. Once they start to burn, the fire is impossible to extinguish. Abengoa lost a huge volume of stored stover in a fire in May. There have been two stover fires at the DuPont plant in Iowa.
FIRE DANGER: Huge stockpiles like this one of baled corn stover at the Abengoa cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton are vulnerable to fire, either by accident, arson or lightning strikes. Once they start to burn, the fire is impossible to extinguish. Abengoa lost a huge volume of stored stover in a fire in May. There have been two stover fires at the DuPont plant in Iowa.

"What has to be acknowledged is that you can't put the fire out," he said. "You manage it until it burns itself out."

He said that the idea is to isolate pads of feedstock in ways that prevent fire from moving from one pad to another. An advantage, he added, is that stover does not burn with a roaring, exploding flame, but rather burns hot and covers itself, a property that aids isolated management.

Fire has also been an enemy of the Abengoa plant at Hugoton. Last spring, a fire destroyed a huge volume of stored bales of corn stover that were to provide feedstock for the opening of the plant by the end of this year or early next year.

"I think it is important for us to know that you cannot quench this fire," said Pieper. "All you can do is manage it until it has burned out. That is not the normal routine for firefighters and I think it is a message that we have to keep repeating."