DuPont breaks ground on $200 million biofuel plant

DuPont Friday announced it is starting work on a $200 million plant in Iowa to produce cellulosic ethanol produced from corn stalks and leaves.

The plant, DuPont’s first using the technology and one of the first in the world, is expected to be completed in mid-2014.

Located in Nevada, Iowa, the plant is expected to produce 30 million gallons of biofuel a year, according to the company.

There were 209 ethanol plants in the United States in January, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. Most of the plants are clustered in the upper Midwest and use corn as a feedstock.

That’s caused some pushback against requirements that ethanol be blended into gasoline, out of concern that its use is pushing up the cost of both food and animal feed.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and several other governors recently asked the Environmental Protection Agency to waive the renewable fuel mandate, claiming it has spiked the demand for corn — and prices — in the wake of a drought in the Midwest. The EPA denied the request earlier this month.

Jan Koninckx, global director of biofuels for DuPont Industrial Biosciences, brushed aside a suggestion that DuPont’s move to use corn stover residue is a reaction to concerns that the use of corn pushes up food prices.

It doesn’t, he said in an interview earlier this week in Houston, where he spoke at the Total Energy USA Conference.

“Food prices are set less by commodity prices than by transportation, advertising,” he said. “If you look at the most recent EPA decision, certainly they don’t agree.”

The drought does affect food prices, he said, “and we have empathy for that. But biofuels per se isn’t a cause of that. I think those concerns, it’s good to voice those, but the data doesn’t bear that out.”

But using corn stover residue — corn stalks and leaves — is a boon for rural economies, he said, because it broadens the crop base that farmers can sell.

The plant will contract with more than 500 area farmers to use about 375,000 tons of stover a year at the facility.

Koninckx said after the ethanol is produced, the remaining biproduct can be used to run the plant, as well as an existing nearby ethanol plant that currently is powered by coal.

That will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.