DuPont's big bioscience bets: butanol, cellulosic ethanol, omega-3 acids

DuPont wants to help raise sustainably-farmed salmon by offering them a diet loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that it manufactures from soybeans.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

NEW YORK -- DuPont wants to help raise sustainably-farmed salmon by offering them a diet loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that it manufactures from soybeans.

The idea: instead of feeding fish other fish to elevate omega-3 levels, why not provide them with the acids directly?

And beyond that: instead of asking Americans to eat more fish to get omega-3, why not put the acids in everyday foods such as sauces and soups?

That was among the more interesting details of Craig Binetti's presentation at the 11th Jefferies Global Clean Technology Conference on Thursday. Binetti, the president of DuPont's Nutrition & Health and Applied BioSciences divisions, says he sees "large potential market opportunities" for his group that will lead to 7 percent annual growth for the company.

Binetti outlined four megatrends driving these opportunities:

  1. Increasing food production.
  2. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
  3. Protecting people & the environment.
  4. Growing in developing markets.

The Applied BioSciences division, which counts $1 billion in revenue, is comprised of two primary businesses: biomaterials, which includes the company's Bio-PDFO, Sorona, Omega-3, biosurfaces and biomedical products; and biofuels, which includes cellulosic ethanol and biobutanol.


The biomaterials group expects to see an estimated $1 billion in revenue by 2015. Currently, it stands at $200 million.

"Through the downturn, our businesses grew significantly," he said.

Highlights included:

  • "One of the world's largest" aerobic facilities, a 100million-lb plant in Loudon, Tenn.
  • A successful partnership with carpet manufacturer Mohawk for their "Smart Strand" carpet.
  • Solid revenues for its Sorona renewable polymer: $3 billion in flooring, $8 billion in apparel, $1 billion in automotive and $1 billion in packaging.
  • A zero-fat soybean oil called Plenish under its "Pioneer" brand in 2012.

"We have a unique capability to have both science in advanced materials as well as biotechnology," Binetti said. "Our goal is to be a powerhouse in industrial biotechnology."


On the biofuels side, DuPont is working simultaneously on cellulosic ethanol -- for which it has opened a demonstration plant -- and biobutanol, for which it has a demonstration plant under construction.

The plan: help clients satisfy government mandates for renewable fuels.

To begin, Binetti offered a look at the global biofuels market.

A quick summary of his points:

  • Biofuels are growing rapidly thanks to a large service economy.
  • 2010 was a $50 billion marke. 2015 prediction: $75 billion; 2020: $100 billion.
  • Three ethanol areas of interest: cellulosic, sugarcane, grain (mostly corn from the U.S.)
  • 600 more plants are needed in next decade.
  • Ethanol is projected to rise to 20 percent of the overall transportation fuel supply.
  • Drop-in fuels and non-food feedstocks are needed.
  • Drivers: energy security, rural community growth, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, food constraints, green jobs.

Binetti outlined the advantages of cellulosic ethanol:

  • 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gases.
  • Grown on marginal land.
  • Good income for farmers.

Then he outlined the advantages of biobutanol:

  • It's a "drop-in" fuel that's compatible with existing engines.
  • High-percentage blends can be achieved without infrastructure changes.
  • It has a higher energy density/content than ethanol, at 26 percent.

Key to DuPont's gains in cellulosic ethanol: its partnership with Danisco. The former brings the science, agriculture expertise and process engineering (not to mention marketing weight) to the table, while the latter brings its intellectual property around enzymes.

"Integrated science is the key to low cost," Binetti said. "Fully-optimized from front to back for maximum efficiency."

Binetti said he expects a lot of interest in the fuel.

"Once the technology becomes available, we expect plants to be built quickly," he said. "We expect to get a significant share of these plants operating on our technology," via tech licensing and assistance and support.

As for biobutanol, the company is partnering with oil giant BP on commercialization in the U.S. and Brazil. (Again: DuPont brings the science, and BP brings the fuel blending, testing and marketing.)

The advantage of butanol is that its higher energy content means more of it can replace gasoline, Binetti said.

"This makes it easier for fuel producers to meet mandates," he said. "Retail gas stations can be taken into and out of butanol service without problem. It's much easier to distribute because it can be used in existing pipelines."

The projected outlook for biofuels as a whole: $100 to 200 million in pretax earnings by 2015, and more than $500 million by 2020, Binetti said.

"In my view, [cellulosic ethanol and biobutanol] are complementary," he said. "We're going to need to approach this with multiple technologies in multiple ways.

"We're positioning ourselves so we can take advantage when that rapid growth in biofuels takes place in the next decade."

Photo: Anthony Masterson/Getty

More from the 2011 Jefferies cleantech conference:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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