Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Opens In Tennessee

Leaders from DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE), University of Tennessee, Genera Energy, and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen cut the ribbon on one of the world’s first cellulosic ethanol demonstration facilities, located in Vonore, TN. The 74,000-square-foot plant has started producing ethanol and will deliver low-cost, fully-integrated technology for commercial production of ethanol from agricultural residue and bioenergy crops, including corncobs and switchgrass.

"The Tennessee Biofuels Initiative already is creating new jobs and opportunities, and I believe the Vonore facility is going to be a real catalyst for additional economic activity in Tennessee," Bredesen says. "I’m pleased with the progress of this partnership and believe this marks an important step forward in our state’s efforts to develop clean energy technology."

"The world should be watching Tennessee," says DDCE President and CEO Joe Skurla. "Here in Vonore, DDCE and Genera Energy are well ahead of the curve as we develop the entire value chain, from feedstock to production. We delivered on our promise to investors, customers and the industry by initiating startup at the end of last year and are on track to provide the industry with investment-grade packages that meet demands for low-cost, scalability and sustainability."

Bredesen was joined by U.S. Representatives John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN) and Zach Wamp (R-TN), state officials, leaders from DDCE, DuPont, Danisco, Genera Energy, the University of Tennessee and more than 300 guests to commemorate the plant’s completion and production startup. It is a major achievement for DDCE, Tennessee’s Biofuels Initiative and the cellulosic ethanol industry, which is under federal mandate to deliver 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, of which 16 billion gallons must come from cellulosic sources.

The University of Tennessee’s Biofuels Initiative, championed by the governor, established a bioenergy crop research and production basis for the burgeoning industry and attracted second-generation biofuels leader DDCE to participate as an industrial partner in the development of the cellulosic ethanol biorefinery. The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative (UTBI), with the support of Genera Energy, is establishing a supply chain for the development of fuel.

The state-of-the-art facility in Vonore has capacity to produce 250,000 gallons of ethanol annually, though its focus is on optimizing technologies for large-scale production. It represents an investment of more than $50 million, including funding from UTBI and DDCE. The project also integrates about $100 million investment in proprietary research by DuPont and Danisco, highly valuable intellectual property platforms and talent pools from both companies and DDCE’s commitment to pay operating costs not covered under UTBI. The Vonore facility currently has a full-time staff of about 20.

Kelly Tiller, CEO of Genera Energy and director of external operations for the UT Office of Bioenergy Programs, says, "The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative is the only fully integrated program that is working with farmers and the agricultural industry to reliably supply the necessary feedstock so biorefineries can produce plentiful, affordable, renewable and sustainable fuels."

She says plans are for Tennessee farmers to place an additional 4,000 acres of switchgrass into production this spring, bringing the total production in the state to nearly 7,000 acres of the dedicated energy crop.

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