DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC (DDCE) and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, through its Genera Energy LLC, have announced a partnership to construct an innovative pilot-scale biorefinery and state-of-the-art research and development facility for cellulosic ethanol in Vonore, Tennessee.
The pilot-scale biorefinery will develop the commercial package for DDCE’s leading cellulosic ethanol technology. The project will utilize UT’s world-class expertise in cellulosic feedstock production and co-product research, as well as its work with Tennessee farmers to develop the first dedicated cellulosic energy crop supply chain for cellulosic biorefineries utilizing switchgrass. The facility design will incorporate the flexibility to operate on two different non-food biomass feedstocks – corn stover, cobs and fiber; and switchgrass.
"We are extremely pleased to collaborate with DDCE," UT President John Petersen said. "The technical breadth and execution capabilities of DuPont Danisco, along with the backing of their parent companies, raise the national and international profile of the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative and confirm the State of Tennessee as a leader in the development of cellulosic ethanol."
The pilot plant and process development unit (PDU) will be located at the Niles Ferry Industrial Park. A PDU is a research facility that enables both experimentation at larger than laboratory scale and more rapid adjustments to process components. The plant capacity will be 250,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. Site preparations are scheduled to begin this fall, and ethanol should be available from the pilot plant 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."
In 2007 Gov. Phil Bredesen proposed and the legislature set aside $40.7 million toward the construction of a pilot biorefinery. Those funds will be combined with a substantial investment from DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol to construct the high-tech research facility.
"I’m extremely pleased to see UT partner with a company like DuPont Danisco," Bredesen said. "This announcement marks an important step forward in our goal to leverage the best of Tennessee’s agricultural and academic resources in a way that will maximize our potential as a farm-based fuels leader. Biomass ethanol research and production is fundamental to positioning Tennessee to take advantage of the economic opportunities of the future."
The university has invested state research dollars toward the development of switchgrass as a potential energy crop for the state and the United States. The first switchgrass plots that will supply the pilot biorefinery were planted by area farmers in spring 2008. These crops will fully mature in three years, and demonstration of switchgrass-to-ethanol conversion could begin as early as 2010. The pilot plant will initially process western Tennessee corn cobs to ethanol and then will optimize its technology for switchgrass to ethanol conversion.
The Tennessee Biofuels Initiative is a farm-to-fuel business plan developed by UT Institute of Agriculture researchers that models a biofuels industry capable of supplementing 30 percent of Tennessee’s current petroleum consumption.