The idea that the U.S. cannot hit the goal of producing 21 billion gallons annually of advanced biofuels by 2022, of which 16 billion gallons is planned to be cellulosic ethanol, flies against information shared by the global business director of DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol, when he spoke to media last winter.
It was reported this month that the Agriculture Department had gathered almost 1,000 comments and conducted 57 stakeholder workshops to help determine whether agriculture and forestry can provide enough feedstock to achieve the 21 billion gallon renewable fuel standard by 2022.
DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol research into a cellulosic ethanol production process and the availability of feedstock indicates that the 16 billion gallons of advanced ethanol production, which is the amount of such ethanol targeted as being produced, or 76 percent of the total 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, can come from corn residue, corn stover and perennial grasses.
Companies could jump into action to construct cellulosic biofuel plants within the next couple years to have this type of ethanol consistently flowing out of the Midwest, separate from grain-corn ethanol.
“This is technology that is here today. Cellulosic ethanol is becoming a reality. It is quite a challenge for the industry,” said Steven Mirshak, the global business director of DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol. “If we think about the Apollo space program, there was a vision to go to the moon. It took us 10 years to get there. I think the RFS mandate provides a similar type vision to us in the cellulosic ethanol community. There is a tremendous amount of technical challenge and technology development which has occurred.
“With DuPont it is real. We have the technology, and we know how to collect the feedstock. We are building a commercial plant in Nevada (Iowa), and we expect a rapid expansion and build out very similar to what occurred in the corn ethanol industry.”
Mirshak also said, “We need many, many companies participating in the investment in a broad collaboration. So, our business model is to add participation in a number of plants. We will license the technology broadly.”
The technology that Mirshak refers to is the cellulosic ethanol production system that has been demonstrated in a Tennessee 250,000 gallon per year pre-commercial technology plant. The process has been refined and in conjunction with DuPont’s acquisition of Genencor, which has produced enzymes for many years, the timing, engineering and science is in place for DuPont to construct the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant.
The expectations are to produce about 80 gallons of ethanol per ton of corn stover by the commercial plant; therefore, it will require around 200 million tons of feedstock to produce cellulosic ethanol. That is a lot of feedstock, but Mirshak says it is available mainly from corn stover, agricultural processing residue and grasses.
The first commercial DuPont plant being built in Iowa will produce 27.5 million gallons per year. Construction is scheduled to begin in the second half of this year and will take up to 18 months.
Private and university research indicates that partial corn stover harvest can be done without injury to the soil organic matter requirements, encouraging soil erosion or reducing soil fertility to any great degree.
DuPont has been hesitant to address the entire economics picture, but Mirshak said government support seems appropriate for an industry in its infant stage, such as the corn ethanol industry was when it was provided assistance to get on its feet.
So, here is one point of view that cellulosic ethanol production can meet the 16 billion gallon per year goal by 2022 because the cellulosic ethanol production process is no longer a pipe dream.