DuPont, Danisco to develop cellulosic ethanol technology

By Kris Bevill | May 09, 2008
Web exclusive posted May 14, 2008 at 2:52 p.m. CST

Delaware-based DuPont and Denmark-based Danisco have formed a joint venture between Danisco's biotechnology division Genencor and DuPont to develop and commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology.

The 50/50 joint venture, DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC, will be a global operation, but its headquarters will be in the United States, along with its first pilot plant. The company said the plant will be complete and operational by 2009. A commercial-scale facility will follow within the next three years. Jennifer Hutchins, spokeswoman for Genencor, said a site has yet to be finalized for the pilot or commercial facilities.

"By combining the world-class capabilities of DuPont and Danisco, our joint venture will offer the technology standard for cellulosic ethanol production," said Danisco Chief Executive Officer Tom Knutzen. "This joint venture will be a powerhouse of discovery, development and engineering. It represents a major step forward in Danisco's new strategic intent to be a leading force in the field of industrial biotechnology."

DuPont Danisco will focus on lowering the cost of producing a gallon of ethanol by optimizing the process steps into a single integrated technology solution. The companies have agreed to invest $140 million for the first three years of the venture. DuPont and Genencor will license their existing intellectual property and patents related to cellulosic ethanol. Initially corn stover and sugarcane bagasse feedstocks will be used by DuPont Danisco, Hutchins said. Genencor has done a large amount of work with sugarcane bagasse already and corn stover has a history of successful use, therefore they were the first two options for DuPont Danisco. However, the company is exploring other feedstock options and plans to use multiple lingo-cellulosic feedstocks and biomass sources in the future.

An interesting aspect of the DuPont Danisco venture is the plan to create a technology package that can be sold directly to ethanol producers worldwide. Existing ethanol facilities will be able to add on the technology, enabling them to use cellulosic feedstocks. The technology package can also serve as the design basis for stand-alone cellulosic facilities. Hutchins said the pieces of that package are currently being worked on and will be made available as soon as possible. The company will also establish regional ethanol affiliates to speed the advancement of commercial-scale cellulosic capabilities to ethanol producers and energy companies.

Hutchins stressed that the new venture company does not mean Genencor will discontinue its current enzyme work. "This is huge for us, but it won't stop us from continuing to offer our merchant enzyme services for both first- and second-generation ethanol," she said.

Genencor and DuPont have previously worked together on biotechnology projects. The companies partnered in 1995 to develop the fermentation biocatalyst that produces Bio-PDO propanediol. The product is currently being manufactured by DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products LLC.