Cellulosic plant a game-changer

It’s not often you get to be there when history is made. History was made at Nevada, Iowa, on Oct. 30, when the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant officially opened. When this plant comes on line in 2016, it will provide greener ethanol for motorists, and this isn’t the last cellulosic ethanol plant DuPont will build.

Cellulosic plant a game-changer

It’s not often you get to be there when history is made. History was made at Nevada, Iowa, on Oct. 30, when the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant officially opened. When this plant comes on line in 2016, it will provide greener ethanol for motorists, and this isn’t the last cellulosic ethanol plant DuPont will build.

The plant uses corn stover (cobs, husks and leaves) instead of corn grain. Cellulosic ethanol creates about 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel when burned in cars and trucks. Corn ethanol is about 20% greener than traditional gasoline. The DuPont plant will produce 30 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol once it reaches full operation.

Government officials attending the opening praised the plant and expressed hope for more cellulosic ethanol plants. “This facility is a game-changer,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley. “You have achieved what Congress hoped when it created the Renewable Fuel Standard. We envisioned new biofuels from new technologies that are cleaner, greener and more efficient. You achieved these goals.”

U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa called the RFS the “holy grail” and promised a “holy war” if congressional opponents seek to repeal the biofuel mandate. “The RFS is all about market access for ethanol in a fuel market dominated by oil companies,” he said. “Corn ethanol is paving the way for development of cellulosic ethanol.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said, “Iowa has a rich history of innovation in agriculture. Today we celebrate the next chapter, using crop residue to make fuel, to bring tremendous environmental benefits to society and economic benefits to our state. Opening this biorefinery is a great example of the innovation possible when rural communities, government and private industry work together for a common goal.”

Collaboration and partnerships

The plant took years of collaboration among DuPont, the U.S. Department of Energy, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa State Uni-versity, state of Iowa, city of Nevada and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. A few years ago an Iowa Stover Harvest Team was formed by ISU to provide information to answer farmers’ questions about producing, harvesting and managing corn stover as a biomass crop. The team is coordinated by Kapil Arora, an ISU Extension ag engineer. “Our team is glad to be part of this partnership, working with DuPont and these other agencies,” he says.

The DuPont plant isn’t the first to make ethanol from biomass. Poet and Abengoa operate plants using various materials to make ethanol, but the DuPont facility will be the biggest so far.

William Feehery, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences, gave three reasons why DuPont got into this business: “First, we have the engineering to build this. Second, we own Pioneer seed company, which provides service to farmers, and in keeping with that, we rely on the agronomic experience of Pioneer. Third, DuPont is one of the largest enzyme companies in the world, and we have key enzyme technology to efficiently digest the cellulose in the stover.”

This article published in the December, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.

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