DDCE shops for commercial-scale site

By Kris Bevill | October 14, 2010
Posted Oct. 28, 2010

Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC is in the process of evaluating sites for its first commercial-scale production facility, dubbed Project Blackhawk, and expects to select a location by the end of the year, according to DDCE corporate communications director Jennifer Hutchins. The 25-50 MMgy corn stover-fed plant will undergo construction beginning in the first quarter of 2011 and should become operational in 2013.

The proposed plant carries a hefty price tag of approximately $300 million in capital costs. Unlike other commercial cellulosic projects, however, Hutchins said DDCE is not relying on significant financial aid to complete the project. "We're not looking for funding to fund this project," she said. "We're a joint venture of two very large companies [Dupont and Genencor, a division of Danisco A/S] who are committed to making this project go forward. We are not in a position where we are going to require large federal grants or loans for this project. What we are looking for is competitive packages from the states as we make our decision where to locate."

Several sites in the Corn Belt are being considered for possible locations, according to Hutchins. Various options are being evaluated, including co-locating with an existing ethanol plant or utilizing a greenfield site. Rail access will be "absolutely key" for the plant, according to Hutchins, but feedstock availability is of course the No. 1 criteria for a workable location. DDCE estimates it will need 550,000 tons of corn stover annually, harvested from about 275,000 acres of land, for a 50 MMgy facility.

Given the large amounts of land and stover required to operate the proposed plant, corn-heavy Iowa makes a logical location for the facility and the state appears to be doing its best to entice the company's business. The economic development department has already approved a $5 million financial assistance package as well as other tax incentives for jobs creation that would result from Project Blackhawk. On Oct. 27, DDCE representatives met with the Iowa Power Fund Board to discuss its potential approval for a $19.7 million grant from the board. In its grant application, DDCE said it will require about 40 acres of land for its overall facilities and that it has narrowed down potential Iowa locations to those within the west-central part of the state. In a description of how its project will benefit Iowa, DDCE expressed confidence that Iowa will be a leader in second-generation ethanol production and said the corn stover available in Iowa is enough to supply more than 10 100 MMgy plants. "Project Blackhawk's primary purpose is to prove out commercial-scale technology for second generation ethanol and serve as a center of excellence for comprehensive solutions in cellulosic ethanol," the company stated in its application, adding that it anticipates many of the 10-20 cellulosic plants that could potentially exist in Iowa will operate using DDCE's licensed technology. The Power Fund's due diligence committee voted to complete a review of DDCE's full application before the board's next meeting, scheduled to be held Nov. 10.

DDCE is nearing completion on an extensive research project to evaluate corn stover harvest and storage, with a goal of developing a feedstock supply chain for a commercial-scale facility. Hutchins said the company has been working with growers in several Midwest states to harvest thousands of tons of stover this season.