Engineering News

Construction Begins On Tenn. Cellulosic Ethanol Demo Plant
October 30, 2008

Construction started this week in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley of East Tennessee on a biofuel refinery that will use switchgrass, a perennial crop, as a feedstock to produce cellulosic ethanol. The pilot plant, a partnership between the University of Tennessee (UT), DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC and Genera Energy, should produce 250,000 gallons of ethanol by the end of 2009. Switchgrass can be replaced when necessary by corncobs and fiber.

Innovation Valley economic officials on hand for the groundbreaking said switchgrass could be an important resource as the country tries to reduce its dependence on imported, petroleum-based fuels.

"We think the Innovation Valley has just established itself as a leader in cellulosic ethanol," said Rhonda Rice, executive vice president of the Knoxville Chamber. "Additional research and production of biofuels holds great promise for the regional economy."

Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn) called the groundbreaking "a red-letter day in the history of alternative energy."

The refinery will be located in the Niles Ferry Industrial Park in Vonore, southeast of Knoxville.

UT President John Petersen said the facility will "help move the nation to energy independence," since cellulosic ethanol is a substitute for petroleum-based fuels. Much of the feedstock will be grown locally, giving hard-pressed East Tennessee farmers a cash crop.

DuPont's Danisco subsidiary will develop the ethanol refining technology.

State support for the project totaled $70.5 million, which includes $40.7 million to build the biorefinery.

About 16 local farmers already have planted more than 700 acres of switchgrass to support the refinery. Nearby farm owner David Richesin, who has already planted about 40 acres of switchgrass, used a tractor to break the ground for the new refinery. Richesin, who quit his dairy farm operation a few years ago, said he was looking for a kind of crop to grow on his available land. The land, he said, is too steep and rocky to grow corn, soybeans or other row crops.

It usually takes several seasons to get switchgrass established. But once it grows, it has several advantages as a biofuel feedstock. It is drought tolerant, grows on steep land and, because it is a perennial, does not have to be planted every year.

Innovation Valley Inc. is a regional partnership of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Knoxville Chamber, Loudon County Economic Development Agency, Oak Ridge Economic Partnership, The Roane Alliance, and Tellico Reservoir Development Agency.

Source: Innovation Valley Inc.

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