World’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant opens

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, November 2, 2015

Dozens of state, local and national leaders gathered in Nevada on Friday to celebrate what DuPont says is the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant, using corncobs, husks and stalks to eventually produce 30 million gallons of ethanol annually.

Gov. Terry Branstad, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, U.S. Rep. Steve King and other political leaders took turns both touting DuPont’s efforts to develop the next-generation low-carbon renewable fuel and bashing a federal proposal to reduce the amount of ethanol that must be blended in the nation’s fuel supply.

“This facility is a game-changer,” Grassley said. “You have achieved what Congress had hoped. We envisioned new biofuels from new technologies that were cleaner, greener and more efficient. You achieved those goals.”

Grassley promised ethanol supporters the federal government “won’t pull the rug out from under you.”

“If we want additional investment of advanced biofuels, Congress and the EPA must reject efforts to undermine a successful program,” he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finalize its reduced Renewable Fuel Standard levels next month.

King called the Renewable Fuel Standard the “holy grail” and promised a “holy war” if congressional opponents seek to repeal the mandate.

DuPont leaders said the company plans to sell most of the green biofuel in California to help the state meet its low-carbon fuel standard. Cellulosic ethanol is 90 percent greener than gasoline.

Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of ethanol, and it has become a hotbed for cellulosic ethanol development.

Last year, Poet opened a plant in Emmetsburg that also uses crop residue to make the cellulosic ethanol. And Quad County Corn Processors began using a different technology that teases out the corn fiber from corn-ethanol production to make cellulosic ethanol.

Ethanol supporters worry that government policy could undermine cellulosic development in the nation.

“What we haven’t seen is the interest in the United States. It’s been stalled. The uncertainty around the RFS has caused some pause,” said William Feehery, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences.

“There’s concern about these investments. I think an important lesson around the continued steadiness of public policy,” he said.

The company wants to replicate the Nevada biorefinery across U.S. and world. It has licensed the technology in China and was hosting potential customers from across the globe at the ceremony Friday.

Executives expect to begin shipping the advanced biofuel next year.

“We want societies everywhere to realize the economic, environmental and energy security benefits of advanced renewable fuel,” Feehery said.

Brian Sampson, one of about 500 local farmers who provides 375,000 tons of stover for the plant, said the project has renewed his belief that Americans can solve important world problems.

Sampson said he was originally resistant to the idea.

“What I thought was a risk I didn’t need or want really was an opportunity,” he said.


Gov. Terry Branstad said he planned to let DuPont executives, who gathered Friday in Iowa, know that the state wants “to do all we can” to support the Delaware company’s continued investment in biotechnology.

Concern about the future of DuPont Pioneer, the giant seed company and large Iowa employer, grew this week after Ed Breen, DuPont’s interim CEO, said in an earnings call that he’s personally talking with executives at other large companies about possible mergers within the agricultural industry.

Breen said Tuesday that “everyone is talking to everyone. … And I’m personally talking to CEOs of some of the other companies.”

Branstad said DuPont has “put a lot of emphasis in the bio area,” investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the next-generation ethanol plant in Nevada and building Pioneer’s seed research and development infrastructure in Johnston.

“They’ve made huge investments … and we hope they’ll continue that focus in bio,” Branstad said after a news conference at DuPont’s cellulosic ceremony. “They’re a traditional chemical company, and a lot of the growth has been in bio, and Pioneer has been an important part of that.”

Branstad blamed EPA for creating uncertainty around the demand for ethanol, and undermining market prices for corn, the primary ingredient in making the renewable fuel until recently.

“Thanks to the EPA and what it’s done to profitability in agriculture, companies like DuPont, Deere, you name it, have been hurt,” Branstad said.