The North American arm of Germany’s Verbio has agreed to buy DuPont’s first and only cellulosic ethanol facility and revamp it to make methane. The plant, which opened in 2015 in Nevada, Iowa, at a cost of more than $200 million, turned corn leaves, stems, and cobs into ethanol via fermentation.
DuPont originally planned to build or license additional cellulosic ethanol facilities based on its enzymes and yeast. But last November, after its merger with Dow, the company idled the Iowa plant and said it would seek a buyer for it and the technology.
In contrast to DuPont, Verbio is a pure-play biofuels company. It produces renewable diesel, ethanol, and methane at four facilities in Europe.
Verbio says it will spend up to $35 million to add facilities for fermenting cellulosic materials into methane instead of ethanol. After the new equipment is added, by the summer of 2020, the company expects to make methane with the energy equivalent of 20 MW for use in natural gas vehicles or to be fed into the natural gas grid.
The Iowa site has the capacity to take in 300,000 metric tons of corn stover per year, enough to make 115 million L of ethanol.
That’s a similar size to three other commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities that opened just before the DuPont facility. Of those, two shut down and now have new owners. Italy’s Versalis recently purchased the Beta Renewables plant in Cresentino, Italy, following the bankruptcy of Beta’s parent company, Mossi & Ghisolfi. A Chicago-based start-up, Synata Bio, purchased Abengoa’s plant in Hugoton, Kan., after Abengoa filed for bankruptcy.
A third plant, a joint venture of Poet and DSM, is still up and running in Emmetsburg, Iowa.