A cellulosic ethanol facility — expected to produce about 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year — opened on October 30 in Nevada, Iowa. DuPont celebrated the opening of its cellulosic ethanol plant, reportedly the world’s largest, with a ceremony including Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad and other dignitaries.

The facility uses corn stover – the stalks, leaves and cobs left in a field after harvest — to produce ethanol. DuPont expects the facility to demonstrate at commercial scale that non-food feedstocks from agriculture can be the renewable raw material for renewable energy. DuPont uses high-tech enzymes to break down the chemical bonds in lignocellulosic material to produce sugars that can then be fermented to produce ethanol or processed to produce bioplastics or other high value chemicals. DuPont also is working on other non-food based feedstocks, including switchgrass, sugarcane bagasse, biomass sorghum and empty fruit bunch. According to DuPont, its farm-to-fuel process for cellulosic ethanol also offers a potential 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline.

A significant portion of the initial cellulosic ethanol production will be sold to the fuel industry to satisfy growing ethanol demand. Working with its marketing partner Murex, DuPont is in discussions to provide ethanol to several North American companies. The company also has been evaluating several non-fuel markets for cellulosic ethanol. As a part of those efforts, DuPont and Proctor & Gamble have already inked an agreement to use cellulosic ethanol in North American Tide laundry detergents.

In related news, DuPont recently signed its first licensing agreement with New Tianlong Industry to build China’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant. The company also signed a memorandum of understanding with Ethanol Europe and the government of Macedonia to develop a second-generation biorefinery project.

The Iowa facility is the result of collaboration and research by DuPont, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Iowa State University, Michigan State University and the University of Tennessee. The state of Iowa, the city of Nevada and the Iowa Economic Development Authority also contributed to the project.