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Biomass ethanol plants growing in Iowa

Agriculture.com Staff 07/19/2011 @ 10:12am

With an agreement in place to buy land for a Midwest processing plant, a subsidiary of DuPont is currently lining up central Iowa fields to harvest corn stalks this fall for a cellulosic-ethanol test project – and eventual commercial production.

Over the next two years, DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) plans to build a biomass ethanol plant near Nevada, Iowa. During the construction phase, DDCE will gather corn stover (stalks, leaves and cobs) from Nevada-area farmers to find out the best harvesting, transporting and handling methods for a large-scale plant.

DDCE already has a smaller research plant in Vonore, Tenn., and announced on June an agreement to buy land in central Iowa's Story County Iowa for a commercial-size plant that will buy approximately 300,000 tons of stover when fully operational. DDCE chose Nevada over a site near Fort Dodge, Iowa.

DDCE, based in Itasca, Ill., won't say how many farmers it seeks for this fall's baling, but last year it gathered at least several thousand tons of stover from test fields in Iowa and south-central Nebraska. (At one time, Nebraska was evaluated for the Nevada plant, and the company says the state remains an attractive market.)

The selection of the central Iowa site comes just six weeks after DuPont bought Danisco, a Danish food-additive and enzyme company that has branched out into biofuels. DDCE was formed three years ago when DuPont partnered with Danisco on biofuel research.

On its website, DDCE says it aims to be the world’s leading cellulosic ethanol company. Also striving for a top spot is South Dakota-based Poet LLC, which hopes next year to start the first commercial-size U.S. cellulosic ethanol plant right next to its conventional corn-ethanol plant at Emmetsburg, in northwest Iowa.

Both plants are projected to produce about 25 million gallons of ethanol a year, from an estimated 300,000 tons of corn stover. Both companies plan to produce their own ethanol, plus license their technology to other processors. And like Poet, DDCE plans to build its cellulosic plant next to a conventional ethanol plant (Lincolnway Energy at Nevada).

Both DDCE and Poet are in test phases: baling, trucking and storing stover to learn the most efficient procedures, and then how to ramp them up for large-scale production planned for 2013 at both plants.

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