$70M TN switchgrass biofuel project scuttled

DuPont will close its biorefinery in Vonore, a facility that was built as a partnership with the state of Tennessee contributing $70 million to research and develop a biofuel industry in East Tennessee, reports The Daily Times of Maryville.

The refinery started as a joint project between DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC and The University of Tennessee Research Foundation. In 2007, the state legislature approved $70.5 million in total investment for the project, including $40.7 million for land acquisition, facilities construction and equipment.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the 74,000-square-foot facility in the Niles Ferry Industrial park in Vonore, took place in October 2008, and an official ribbon cutting was held in late January 2010.

The facility is a “demonstration-scale biorefinery” where DuPont has been researching ways to use crops like switchgrass to make cellulosic ethanol. The Vonore site had the capability of producing 250,000 gallons of ethanol annually, according to a 2013 story in The Daily Times.

A DuPont spokesman confirmed to The Daily Times this week that the company is closing the facility “in an effort to streamline operations.”

“DuPont partnered with the state of Tennessee to build and operate this pilot facility in 2009. DuPont entered the partnership to develop the technology to scale up next-generation cellulosic ethanol technology to commercial capacity,” said the statement attributed to Jan Koninckx, global business director for advanced biofuels.

“That core mission has been fulfilled as demonstrated by DuPont’s recently opened 30 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa,” the statement said.

The Iowa facility is one of the first commerical-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the world and uses corn stover — the cobs, leaves and stalks left after harvest — to produce cellulosic ethanol. DuPont predicts the $225 million facility will produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. It opened on Oct. 30 of this year.

“DuPont remains committed to the commercialization of cellulosic biofuel and will focus its resources on its Iowa facility and securing technology licensing opportunities around the world,” the statement said.

The statement noted that DuPont has invested over $85 million in the Vonore piloting facility, “contributing substantially to the local economy.”

Note: The project was funded under former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, though embraced by Republicans including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. (See, for example, previous posts HERE and HERE. As mentioned in the latter, legislators on the Fiscal Review Committee critically questioned the project at one point, but nothing came of that.)

(Hat tip, Knoxviews)