Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Opens

Tennessee Plant to Turn Corn Cobs into Fuel

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted February 1, 2010

Corn cobs and switchgrass don't get much respect in the world of food and industry, but would-be waste is steadily being converted to fuel more cheaply than ever.

Using actual kernels of corn to produce ethanol fuel was deemed by most of the investing community to be too inefficient in its production to justify the process. Intensive water and land usage—as well as corn price surges and subsequent "tortilla riots" in Mexico—made corn a liability on large projects. At the beginning of 2010, we're seeing more momentum in more efficient sugarcane ethanol, and in cellulosic ethanol, which is made from plant-based agricultural waste.

DuPont Danisco, a joint venture between the American chemicals giant and a Danish company, is opening a demonstration plant in Tennessee in February where cellulose-rich corn cobs and switchgrass will be converted to fuel.

The goal is to churn out 250,000 gallons of renewable fuel each year, at a cost competitive with $90 a barrel oil. That means each gallon will need to take about $5.50 per gallon to make instead of the current $8, so DuPont Danisco is working closely with crop scientists and fuel experts to bring those input costs down.

By 2012, investors and researchers hope to reach the point where production can begin in earnest.

-Sam Hopkins