Iowa Could Land Another Cellulosic Ethanol Refinery

Two companies, DuPont and Danisco, have formed a joint venture and are considering Iowa for the location of a new cellulosic biorefinery that would produce up to 50 million gallons of ethanol annually.

Published on: Oct 25, 2010

Two companies, DuPont and Danisco, have formed a joint venture to explore the possibility of building a facility to manufacture cellulosic ethanol. They are considering central Iowa as one of the places to locate the biorefinery, according to information from the Iowa Economic Development Board.

DuPont and Danisco's Genencor division are considering several locations in Iowa and the Midwest for the new commercial cellulosic fuel ethanol refinery. A company spokeswoman declined to say which towns and states are being considered, as DuPont and Danisco are still in the site investigation phase.

The new facility would use light corn stover - cobs, husks and corn leaves - to make ethanol on a commercial scale, using technology they've developed at a pilot plant in Tennessee. The joint venture has filed a request with the Iowa Power Fund, seeking $19.8 million from the state of Iowa program. The Power Fund provides financial help to firms that are developing renewable energy and new jobs in Iowa. The two companies - DuPont and Danisco - would invest $255 million of their own money, state officials say.

The new project is named "Project Blackhawk"

The "Project Blackhawk" refinery, as it is being called, could be built in Story County in central Iowa near Nevada or in Webster County - towards the northwest part of the state. Initial production of 25 to 50 million gallons yearly could be expanded up to 100 million gallons in future years. The DuPont/Danisco group will present it's plans to the Iowa Power Fund committee on October 27.

The joint venture will to decide where to locate the plant by the end of 2010. This fall the group is testing different methods for collecting corn stover in Iowa and other Midwest states. DuPont-Danisco has said that a low-cost technology solution for making cellulosic ethanol has a global market of $75 billion a year. The partnership expects its developing technology could be used as part of existing ethanol plants or could become stand alone refineries.

Iowa is the number one ethanol producing state in the nation, making an estimated 3.3 billion gallons in 2010, says Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. He says he expects Iowa will become the "Saudi Arabia of cellulosic ethanol production" as plants shift from using corn grain to make ethanol, to using biomass, including corn cobs.

Iowa has a lot at stake in developing cellulosic ethanol

Several companies in Iowa are also exploring the possibility of using algae and paper waste to make ethanol for use in motor vehicles. Shaw expects eventually that cellulosic ethanol plants will use crop residues to do everything from create power to create renewable fuels and renewable chemicals.

A leading U.S. ethanol manufacturing company, Poet LLC, headquartered in South Dakota, is getting ready to build a commercial facility for making cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs and light stover at Emmetsburg in northwest Iowa. Poet already has a commercial ethanol plant at Emmetsburg that makes ethanol from corn grain. Poet's proposed commercial cellulosic ethanol plant is called Project Liberty and it received $14.8 million from the Iowa Power Fund in February 2010. Poet plans to put $231 million of its own money into the project.

Both DuPont and Danisco have ties to Iowa. DuPont is a large Delaware-based chemical company which owns Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the leading seed company based in Johnston near Des Moines. Genencor is a division of Danisco, a company headquartered in Denmark. Genencor makes enzymes at its plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.