Making ethanol

A new joint venture plans to develop and commercialise an economical process for the production of cellulosic ethanol.

DuPont and Genencor, a division of Danisco, are to form DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol, a 50/50 global joint venture that will develop and commercialise an economical process for the production of cellulosic ethanol – a next generation biofuel produced from non-food sources.

The partners plan an initial three-year investment of $140m, which will initially target corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. Future targets will include multiple ligno-cellulosic feedstocks including wheat straw, a variety of energy crops and other biomass sources.

Scientists at DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol aim to maximise the efficiency and lower the overall system cost of ethanol production by shrinking several existing process steps into one. To do so, the joint venture will scale up a production process based on proprietary DuPont pretreatment and ethanologen technologies with enzyme technology from Genencor.

A pilot plant should become operational in 2009, and the first commercial-scale demonstration facility will be operational within the next three years.

The joint venture, which will be based in the US and formed after receipt of required regulatory approvals, will then license its technology package directly to ethanol producers for worldwide deployment.

Both companies claim that the joint venture’s ‘technology package’ will be able to be used both as a ‘bolt-on’ to an existing ethanol plant – expanding its capacity to accept cellulosic feedstocks – or as the basis for a stand-alone cellulosic ethanol facility.

The joint venture expects to begin the production of commercial volumes of cellulosic ethanol by 2012.