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NREL Industry Partners Move Cellulosic Ethanol Technology Forward

May 15, 2008

Collaborative scientific research between the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and DuPont will be put to use to develop and commercialize technology to produce cellulosic ethanol from non-food sources.

DuPont and its partner Genencor, a division of Danisco A/S, have announced that they will invest $140 million initially to integrate the pretreatment process and fermenting organism developed with NREL and enzyme technologies developed by Genencor in a joint venture to convert corn stover and sugar cane bagasse to ethanol.

"The Department of Energy applauds the innovative partnership of DuPont and Genencor/Danisco," said DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner. "Both companies have worked extensively with the Department on research and development to pioneer domestic biofuels production – a critical component of the President’s comprehensive energy strategy to commercialize and deploy a diverse portfolio of alternative and renewable fuel sources. Through efforts like these, we can together transform the way we power our vehicles using the next generation of non-food based fuels that can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help meet the President’s goal to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025."

DuPont and Genencor expect to have a pilot plant demonstrating their technology package in operation by 2009, and a commercial-scale facility operational in the next three years. The joint venture expects to license its technology package to ethanol producers.

"This is precisely the outcome we hope for from our work with industry," NREL Director Dan Arvizu said. "Developing the scientific underpinnings of technology that lead to clean, sustainable ways of powering our cars, homes and businesses is vital to the future of the nation and the world."

Since 2000, the DOE has supported research and development with DuPont and Genencor through grants totaling more than $49 million for the development of pretreatment processes, advanced ethanol conversion organisms and improved enzymes.

Through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), NREL has helped the companies advance the science and engineering in the technology package they will license or use to produce cellulosic ethanol. Included are:

- The pretreatment process developed under NREL's CRADA with DuPont reduces capital costs. Pretreatment makes the carbohydrate portion of the corn stover more amenable to enzymatic digestion to make all biomass sugars available for fermentation to ethanol.

- A proprietary organism - based on breakthrough NREL discoveries and improvements to the biocatalyst Zymomonas mobilis - that can ferment sugars to a high concentration of cellulosic ethanol.

- In a separate CRADA, NREL worked with Genencor to reduce the cost of enzymes that break down cellulosic material so it can be more easily converted to ethanol. Genencor's less expensive enzymes are key to the joint venture.

For more information, see the DuPont-Danisco announcement.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by Midwest Research Institute and Battelle.

—George Douglas