DuPont, the corporate science and engineering giant, has broken ground on a new cellulosic biorefinery in Iowa. With a projected completion date of mid-2014, it will be among the first and largest commercial-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the world.
Expected to generate 30 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel annually using corn stover residues, a non-food feedstock that consists of corn stalks and leaves, the project is a collaboration between DuPont, the state of Iowa, Iowa State University and a host of farmers from the immediate surroundings.
James C. Collins, president of DuPont Industrial Bioscience, explained,
>”Nearly a decade ago, DuPont set out to develop innovative technology that would result in low capital and low-cost cellulosic ethanol production. We recognized that science-powered innovation was the catalyst to make cellulosic ethanol a commercial reality and to help reduce global dependence on fossil fuels.”
DuPont plans to contract with over 500 local farmers to gather, store and deliver the 375,000 plus tons of stover per year that will be needed for production of biofuel. The farmers are all within an approximate 30 mile radius of the facility which will help to minimize fuel for transportation of the feedstock.
Corn stover typically sits on corn fields and rots after harvest, so this represents a new potential income stream for farmers and a low cost feedstock for the biorefinery. During Iowa State University’s Integrated Crop Management Conference in Ames, Iowa last month, Chad Hart talked about some of the pricing aspects for delivering corn stover to ethanol plants in this video.
As an emerging income stream for farmers, the market price for corn stover as a biofuel feedstock is still to be determined. Iowa State University extension economist William Edwards estimates the price of corn stover for livestock feed at just pennies a pound. Corn as a feedstock for ethanol, on the other hand, costs about $7.50 a bushel or approximately $0.13 per pound.
Edwards explains, “Corn stover has potential as a feedstock for the production of ethanol. For stover to be suitable for conversion to biofuel it must also be kept dry. Extra costs will be incurred, which must be factored into the market price. On the other hand, the value of corn stover to the processor will depend on the costs of operating the ethanol plant, and the price of substitute products such as petroleum.”
The cost for building the biorefinery is going to be about 4 times the cost of a corn ethanol plant, but with a long term vision to “accelerate the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol in markets around the world,” DuPont and others hope that costs for these types of plants will go down as more are built. To help achieve their vision, DuPont plans to license their biorefinery’s end-to-end production system globally.
These sorts of advances in biofuel technology are an important part of our mission to reduce America’s dependency on crude oil for transportation fuel. The volatility of global oil markets and the environmental impacts of oil production and emissions demonstrate the need for more renewable and cleaner forms of fuel that utilize waste and don’t compete with global foodstocks for production.