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Turning Plants Into Biofuels

The creation of advanced biofuels requires the same basic processes that create the versatile building blocks used in the production of renewably sourced ingredients and materials.

From Crops to Biobutanol

First, the crop (which may be a hybrid crop with specific traits ideal for increasing the productivity of current biofuel manufacturing) is harvested. Second, the crop goes through a milling and separating process that breaks it down into smaller component parts and frees up the carbohydrates that can be used in subsequent steps. Finally, using a millennia-old agricultural practice as the primary influence for the biotechnology, DuPont together with BP, is developing a fermentation process capable of creating a high-performance biofuel — biobutanol.

Moving Forward: Cellulosic Ethanol

While ethanol is typically produced from the starch contained within grains such as corn kernels, it can now be produced from cellulose — the main component of plant cell walls and the most common organic compound on earth.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided DuPont a four-year, $19 million matching grant to develop a technology package to produce cellulosic ethanol. Called the Integrated Corn-Based BioRefinery (ICBR), it utilizes the entire corn plant — the stalks, cobs and leaves left in the field after harvest — as opposed to only the corn kernel. Corn was chosen because of the current logistical advantages of harvesting, transporting and producing ethanol from this renewably sourced feedstock.

The ICBR is comprised of three steps:

  1. Pretreatment of corn stover to separate the lignin from the plant's cellulose backbone to provide access to the cellulose for further processing.
  2. An enzymatic process called saccharification to convert the cellulosic materials to fermentable sugars; and
  3. A novel technology developed to ferment the sugars to make high concentrations of cellulosic ethanol.

Cellulosic Science

In the past, harsh acids and high temperatures were used in an attempt to break down the cellulose matrix to its individual sugar components. Now, through advanced biotechnology techniques, the DuPont ICBR technology can break down cellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars through natural enzyme-based processes — replacing less efficient petrochemical processes.

DuPont Partnerships

DuPont believes that creating the technology to enable a sustainable world based on renewable resources cannot be accomplished alone. Therefore, DuPont will continually seek alliances and partnerships with companies that can bring world-class knowledge and expertise to help deliver transformative solutions for the environment and people everywhere. The following are examples of alliances and partnerships in which DuPont has engaged:

BP — BP is of one of the largest energy companies in the world and the largest oil and gas producer and refiner in the United States. In 2006, BP and DuPont announced their joint strategy to deliver advanced biofuels that help meet increasing global demand for renewable transportation fuels, leveraging the advanced biotechnology capabilities of DuPont and fuel marketing and technology expertise of BP. For additional information on the DuPont/BP partnership, click here.

Deere & Company — John Deere is a world-leading supplier of equipment used in agriculture. Deere is working closely with DuPont to develop economical and efficient corn stover collection solutions and transportation logistics.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory — The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the nation's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. The NREL has been a key partner in the development of the pretreatment and fermentation technologies for the ICBR.

Pioneer Hi-Bred — Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, is the world's leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics to farmers worldwide. Pioneer Hi-Bred has been instrumental in providing significant market and agronomy insight throughout many DuPont renewably sourced projects such as the ICBR. For additional information on the DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred relationship, click here.

Poet (formerly Broin Companies) — Two technology leaders in the growing biofuels industry, DuPont and Poet, formed a partnership in the United States to take the next steps needed to bring cost-effective ethanol derived from corn stover to market. The partnership between Poet and DuPont brings together much of the needed technology that is important to the future development of cellulose to ethanol. The ability to combine the global science of DuPont with Poet's ethanol production technology puts DuPont in position to make the commercialization of cellulose to ethanol a reality much sooner. For additional information on the DuPont/Poet partnership, click here.

DuPont™ Renewably Sourced™ Materials contain a minimum of 20% renewably sourced ingredient by weight.