Non-food ethanol could help alleviate food crisis fear

Posted by Isobel Drake on 15th May 2008

Amidst global concern about potential food shortages and skyrocketing food prices, the biofuels debate has become heated. Many have been blaming the use of food for fuel as a key reason for the escalating food prices with the US Department of Agriculture attributing 20% of food price rises to biofuels. Consequently, news of research into biofuels produced from non-food sources is very welcome.

DuPont and Genencor, a division of Danisco A/S, have announced an agreement to form DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC, a 50/50 global joint venture to develop and commercialize the leading, low-cost technology solution for the production of cellulosic ethanol – a next generation biofuel produced from non-food sources.

The partners plan an initial three-year investment of US$140 million, which will initially target corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. Future targets include multiple ligno-cellulosic feedstocks including wheat straw, a variety of energy crops and other biomass sources.

“With food and gas prices surging at double-digit rates, there is an imperative for sustainable biofuels technologies. This joint venture addresses this issue head on,” said DuPont Chairman and CEO Charles O. Holliday, Jr. “By integrating our companies’ strengths and expertise in this new venture, we are significantly increasing the potential to make cellulosic ethanol from multiple non-food sources an economic reality around the world.”

“By combining the world-class capabilities of DuPont and Danisco, our joint venture will offer the technology standard for cellulosic ethanol production,” said Danisco CEO Tom Knutzen. “This joint venture will be a powerhouse of discovery, development and engineering. It represents a major step forward in Danisco’s new strategic intent to be a leading force in the field of industrial biotechnology.”

The global joint venture expects its first pilot plant to be operational in the United States in 2009, and commercial volumes are likely to be produced by 2012.

It is hoped research like this will alleviate some of the pressure on global food supplies and provide a long-term solution to both food and environmental issues.