World’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant opens in Iowa

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 2, 2015

DuPont Industrial Biosciences opened the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant today in central Iowa.

The facility is capable of producing 30 million gallons of ethanol a year out of the residues left on surrounding farm fields after the corn harvest. It is the third large-scale cellulosic ethanol plant to open in the Midwest.

DuPont is celebrating today with a grand opening that includes facility tours.

“Today, we fulfill our promise to the global biofuels industry with the dedication of our Iowa facility,” William Feehery, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences, said in a statement. “And perhaps more significantly, we fulfill our promise to society to bring scientific innovation to the market that positively impacts people’s lives. Cellulosic biofuel is joining ranks with wind and solar as true alternatives to fossil fuels.”

Cellulosic ethanol refers to biofuels made from non-food plant materials such as agricultural residue, perennial grasses and municipal solid waste. The 2007 renewable fuel standard called for the development of the fuel and spurred a host of projects around the country to bring it to commercial production.

The cellulosic industry, however, has been slower to develop than Congress anticipated when it passed the RFS into law in 2007, with many companies stymied by the recession.

Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC and Abengoa Bioenergy SA both opened 25-million-gallon cellulosic ethanol plants in the Midwest in the past year and a half. A small Iowa ethanol company, Quad County Corn Processors, is also producing cellulosic ethanol out of the parts of the corn plant that are left after conventional ethanol production.

DuPont broke ground on its plant in Nevada, Iowa, in November 2012. The company originally eyed an opening for last year but pushed back the start date to the launch party today, largely due to weather and issues with finding a reliable workforce.

Each year, the completed plant will use 375,000 dry tons of agricultural residues collected from within 30 miles of the plant.

“Iowa has a rich history of innovation in agriculture,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said in a statement. “Today we celebrate the next chapter in that story, using agricultural residue as a feedstock for fuel, which brings both tremendous environmental benefits to society and economic benefits to the state.”

DuPont said that most of the cellulosic ethanol produced at the plant will be used to fulfill California’s low-carbon fuel standard, as well as “serve as a commercial-scale demonstration of cellulosic technology” for investors around the world to view.

While DuPont initially planned to replicate its Iowa facility in other places in the United States, the company is increasingly looking abroad for future cellulosic ethanol projects. Earlier this year, DuPont signed a licensing agreement with Jilin Province New Tianlong Industry Company Ltd. to develop China’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant (Greenwire, July 16). DuPont is also planning to build a second-generation biorefinery in Macedonia.

DuPont and other advanced biofuel producers blame U.S. policy uncertainty for forcing them to look overseas. U.S. EPA has yet to set 2014 targets for biofuels under the RFS program.

Earlier this year, the agency released a three-year proposal that calls for year-over-year increases in refiners’ biofuel requirements but that would lower the mandates compared with the levels that Congress wrote in the 2007 statute.

EPA is aiming to finalize the proposal by a Nov. 30 court-ordered deadline. As of this morning, the agency had yet to send its final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.

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