DuPont Danisco joins UT cellulosic ethanol project

By Susanne Retka Schill
Web exclusive posted July 24, 2008 at 2:58 p.m. CST

The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative has shifted its partnership from Mascoma Corp. to DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC to construct a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Vonore, Tenn. The University of Tennessee Research Foundation, through its Genera Energy LLC, announced the change on July 23.

"After a year of discussions, we could not reach agreement on the details of the business arrangements and we realized our business interests are no longer aligned," said Kelly Tiller, director of external relations for the University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative. "Although we are parting ways on this particular venture, we do hope to have a chance to work with Mascoma in the future and mutually support the development and production of cellulosic ethanol."

The biofuels initiative is on track to break ground this fall on the pilot-scale biorefinery to combine DuPont Danisco's cellulosic ethanol technology with the university's expertise in switchgrass production. In addition to switchgrass, the facility design will incorporate the flexibility to use corn stover, cobs, and fiber as feedstock. The pilot plant and process development unit will be located at the Niles Ferry Industrial Park in Vonore, Tenn. The process development unit will enable research at a scale larger than laboratory-scale and more rapid adjustments in process components. The plant capacity will be 250,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. Site preparations are scheduled to begin this fall, and the pilot plant is expected to begin producing ethanol by December 2009.

"Our technology is ready to pilot and we are eager to get the steel in the ground," said DuPont Danisco technology leader John Pierce. "The high cellulosic content of switchgrass makes it an optimal feedstock for ethanol production. Its yields today make it more than competitive with other biomass sources, and it has the potential to produce over 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre in the future. The joint venture is now targeting the two optimal biomass feedstocks in the United States and we are ready to take our technology to the next level of commercial viability."

The announcement of the partnership with DuPont Danisco marks a swift change in direction for the Tennessee project. It was just a month ago that the University of Tennessee denied a report that Mascoma had pulled out of the project. "We were telling the truth at the time," Tiller said. "The relationship we've presented here has come about very rapidly. I think it's a real indication of how aligned our interests are."

Mascoma and the University of Tennessee were notified last spring of a potential U.S. DOE award of $26 million to Mascoma for this particular project. "At this point we are not expecting to participate in the DOE award," Tiller said. "We don't have any other information about the status of the award at this point." She added that both the University of Tennessee and the partners in the DuPont joint venture have a long history of working with the DOE.