DuPont takes the lead in biofuel race

Switchgrass, such as this field growing at the UT Research and Education Centre in Milan, Tennessee, is expected to be a major feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. University of Tennessee photo.
DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) has opened one of the world’s first cellulosic ethanol demonstration facilities in Tennessee, USA. The 7,000-square-metre plant has started producing ethanol and will deliver low-cost, fully-integrated technology for commercial production of ethanol from agricultural residue and bio-energy crops, including corncobs and switchgrass, a US native plant that grows to over 1.5 metres.
“The world should be watching Tennessee,” said DDCE president and CEO Joe Skurla. “Here in Vonore, DDCE and Genera Energy are well ahead of the curve as we develop the entire value chain, from feedstock to production. We delivered on our promise to investors, customers and the industry by initiating start-up at the end of last year and are on track to provide the industry with investment-grade packages that meet demands for low-cost, scalability and sustainability.”
The University of Tennessee’s Biofuels Initiative, championed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, established a bio-energy crop research and production basis for the burgeoning industry and attracted second generation biofuels leader DDCE to participate as an industrial partner in the development of the cellulosic ethanol bio-refinery. The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative (UTBI), with the support of Genera Energy, is establishing a supply chain for the development of fuel.
The state-of-the-art facility in Vonore has capacity to produce 1 million litres of ethanol annually, though its focus is on optimising technologies for large-scale production. It represents an investment of more than USD 50 million, including funding from UTBI and DDCE. The project also integrates about a USD 100 million investment in proprietary research by DuPont and Danisco, highly valuable intellectual property platforms and talent pools from both companies and DDCE’s commitment to pay operating costs not covered under UTBI. The Vonore facility currently has a full-time staff of about 20.
According to Biofuels Digest, the plant is producing over 300 litres per tonne of feedstock, and is targeting 350 litres per tonne by the time of its commercial rollout. Capital costs are USD 1.30 per litre of operating capacity, based on the company’s models, and are expected to reach $1.20 by the time of the first commercial rollout and “pushing $1″ by the time the company has completed “4-5 plants”. The company’s manufacturing cost is $0.50 per litre, with a goal of reaching $0.40 per litre, and will be competitive with $85-$90 oil, and is designed to be competitive without subsidies or incentives.
DDCE was established in 2008 to integrate the state-of-the art technologies and engineering expertise of DuPont and Danisco, and today is accelerating commercialisation of cellulosic ethanol.

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