DuPont executive says company still enthusiastic about cellulosic ethanol

Des Moines Register  • Posted: Monday, May 20, 2013

A DuPont executive said a push by critics to undermine the country’s renewable fuels mandate has not deterred the company from investing in the next wave of ethanol production: cellulosic.

Jan Koninckx, DuPont’s chief on cellulosic renewable fuel, said the company remains on track to open its 30 million gallon cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa, next year after investing nearly $225 million in the project. While the facility is probably the last one DuPont will develop on its own, Koninckx said the company is in negotiations with “a number” of groups to license its technology and would consider investing in other plants. A deal is not imminent, he said.

“We are talking to a number of them, some of them are in fact major energy companies, major oil companies, some of them are smaller companies, some of them are agriculture companies, some of them are private equity,” he said in an interview

Cellulosic fuels, which are made with crop residue, grasses, wood chips and other materials have advanced more slowly than envisioned, but they are viewed by the industry as a critical source of growth.

DuPont has invested several hundred million dollars in cellulosic during the last decade. Koninckx said the company is better positioned to protect its investment after reducing its risk by improving its technology, improving the collection of cellulosic materials like leaves and stalks more efficiently and reducing capital costs.

Koninckx, echoing other ethanol supporters, said calls from critics such as the American Petroleum Institute to scale back or end the country’s Renewable Fuel Standard are misguided and based on misinformation. Some opponents that have been the most vocal in attacking the RFS, he said, are those who have not taken the necessary steps to prepare for its growth.

“The RFS really works and that is why people are really paying attention and talking it down,” he said. “If every law that came out of (Washington) was as impactful as the RFS this place would be pretty damn productive.”

The steadily growing Renewable Fuel Standard requires the blending of advanced biofuels, cellulosic biofuel and ethanol made from corn. By 2022, 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels are required to be part of the nation’s fuel supply.

In January, the EPA proposed the production of 2.75 billion gallons of advanced biofuels as part of a broader output of 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels this year. The hope from RFS opponents is that the advanced fuel component is lowered by the EPA in the final rule, pushing the overall renewable fuel volume lower and getting the mandate below the closely watched blend wall.

“I can’t blame (the EPA) for feeling under pressure because there are a lot of people Monday-morning quarterbacking them and suing them and putting them under pressure for every decision that they make,” said Koninckx.