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USDA Announces New Conservation Collaboration With DuPont to Promote Sustainable Harvesting of Bio-Based Feedstocks For Cellulosic Ethanol

Date Posted: April 1, 2013

by Jerry Perkins, editor, BioFuels Journal

Johnston, IA—U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Friday, March 29, that the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and DuPont will collaborate on a new federal-private agreement to promote soil conservation and protect the natural resources of farmland that will be used to produce bio-based feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production.

In ceremonies held at DuPont Pioneer’s Beaver Creek Research Facility north of Des Moines, Vilsack said the joint agreement between USDA-NRCS and DuPont will establish voluntary standards for the sustainable harvesting of corn husks, stalks, leaves, and cobs known as stover and other agricultural residues that will be used for the production of renewable fuel at a 30-million-gallon-a-year (MMGY) cellulosic ethanol plant that DuPont is building near the central Iowa town of Nevada.

In addition to sustainably supplying feedstocks to run the plant, Vilsack said the agreement will help support rural job creation, provide added income for farmers who market the corn stover to DuPont, promote bio-based energy development, advance national energy security for the United States, and lead to the safeguarding of natural resources and land productivity.

DuPont’s Nevada plant will initially be supplied annually by 600,000 bales of corn stover harvested from 500 farmers within a 30-mile radius of the facility, according to James Borel, DuPont executive vice president, who also spoke at the ceremonies and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Vilsack establishing the joint agreement.

“With this new collaboration, we have a partner in the Natural Resources Conservation Service to ensure that the collection of corn stover for the production of cellulosic renewable fuel makes sense for an individual grower's operation and the land they farm,” stated Borel.

The signing of the MOU calls for USDA-NRCS to provide conservation planning assistance for farmers who supply bio-based feedstocks to biorefineries as the industry begins to commercialize.

Jay Mar, Iowa NRCS state resource conservationist, said at the ceremonies that the voluntary conservation plans will be written in cooperation with farmers to ensure that individual farm operations sustainably harvest corn crop residues, promote natural resource conservation and land productivity, and provide for a farm's economic sustainability.

Through the MOU, DuPont will develop a process to work with cooperating farms on sustainable harvest practices that help keep soil in the field and out of rivers, streams and lakes; promote healthier soils which help reduce flooding through increased infiltration rates; and provide for the efficient use of nutrients.

“Today, a seed has been planted for conservation stewardship,” Mar said of the MOU.

Also speaking at the ceremonies was Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who joined Vilsack in defending the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“The Renewable Fuels Standard is under attack in Washington, DC, and needs to be protected,” said Branstad.

“It is very important to the renewable fuels industry and its continued growth.”

Vilsack was asked by BioFuels Journal if the USDA will be entering into additional joint agreements with other cellulosic ethanol producers, such as the POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels Joint Venture that is building Project LIBERTY.

The project also will use corn stover as the feedstock for its 25 MMGY cellulosic ethanol plant being built in Emmetsburg, IA, adjacent to POET’s corn ethanol plant.

Project LIBERTY is scheduled to begin operations in late 2013.

The plant will use corncobs, leaves, husks, and some stalks and is expected to initially produce 20 MMGY of ethanol, eventually growing to approximately 25 MMGY.

“That’s the hope,” said Vilsack of extending the joint agreements to other producers.

“I would hope other companies would see the wisdom in doing this.”

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