DuPont drops ties to Tenn. biorefinery

DuPont's demonstration and research size biorefinery in the Niles Ferry Industrial Park in Vonore, Tenn., was reportedly closed at the end of 2015 with transition to new owners underway.

Even though it was a small-scale operation, the biorefinery initially cost about $70 million and DuPont reports it invested more than $85 million in the pilot plant. The facility was built as a partnership/joint project between DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, which formed Genera Energy LLC using state funds for investment into the plant. The cellulosic biorefinery officially opened in October 2008.

A major focus of research has been the use of switchgrass as a cellulosic ethanol source. Area farmers were contracted to grow switchgrass and other potential biofuel sources.

Genera Energy reportedly formed TennEra LLC in 2012 to look for commercial biomass supply business opportunities, according to a report in The Daily Times of Maryville, Tenn.

The newspaper also quoted DuPont spokesman Aaron Woods who expressed appreciation for the Tennessee government and foundation support. "We appreciate their support and will be working with them for a smooth turnover of the site back to TennEra. This pilot facility fulfilled its core mission, which was to provide the data necessary to scale up cellulosic ethanol technology to full commercial scale."

DuPont has opened a $225 million facility at Nevada, Iowa, where corn stover is being used to produce cellulosic ethanol. The Iowa plant is one of the first "commercial-scale" cellulosic biorefineries in the world.

There is no specific announced tie between DuPont and Dow Chemical Co.'s merging and DuPont dropping it involvement with the Tennessee facility.