Fuel, chemicals from corn plants


GOLDEN, Colo. – The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and DuPont are jointly developing the world’s first integrated “bio-refinery.”

It will use corn or other renewable resources – rather than traditional petrochemicals – to produce fuels and chemicals.

Stalks and husks, too. The $7.7 million agreement calls for DuPont and the laboratory to collaboratively develop, build, and test a bio-refinery pilot process that will make fuels and chemicals from the entire corn plant – including the fibrous material in the stalks, husks, leaves, and the starchy material in the kernels.

The agreement is part of the larger $38 million DuPont-led consortium known as the Integrated Corn-Based Bioproducts Refinery (ICBR) project.

Other players. The project – which includes DuPont, NREL, Diversa Corporation, Michigan State, and Deere & Co. – received $19 million in matching funds from the Department of Energy last year to design and demonstrate the practicality of alternative energy and renewable resource technology.

The initiative will develop the world’s first fully integrated bio-refinery, which will be capable of producing a range of products from a variety of plant-material feedstocks.

Several bio-refineries currently produce a range of products mainly from starch-rich or protein-rich biomass, while other bio-refineries start with a variety of vegetable oils.

Giant step? “With this project our nation takes a big step toward the day when we can produce many of the transportation fuels and chemical stocks we require from domestically grown corn and energy crops, as well as agricultural and forestry residues,” said lab Director Admiral Richard Truly.

How it works. Operating like a conventional refinery, the refinery will make use of the entire corn plant. Purified sugars from the corn kernel will be the primary source of value-added chemicals, while the remainder of the corn plant – commonly called “the stover” – will be converted into fuel-grade ethanol and electrical power.

One of the chemicals could be 1,3 propanediol (PDO), the building block for DuPont Sorona – the company’s newest polymer platform that can be used in applications such as textile apparel, carpeting, and packaging.


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