DuPont Looking Beyond Corn in Biofuels

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Includes: BP, DWDP
by: The Deal Economy

The biggest obstacle to development of truly innovative biofuels is likely to be the entrenched agriculture industry and the system of subsidies that have been reinforced in the new federal energy bill's ethanol supports.

So it's a good sign that the head of chemical giant E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.'s (DD) biofuels programs told the Reuters Global Agriculture and Biofuel Summit that he expects the industry over the next five years to move beyond corn ethanol to multiple sources, in anticipation of molecules with improved fuel properties.

DuPont has benefited mightily from the growth of corn ethanol because of the role of its Pioneer Hybrid division in supplying farmers with genetically modified seed. But because the company is also in partnership with BP plc (NYSE:BP) to operate biofuel plants, DuPont's chief innovation officer Thomas Connelly is in a position to take a wider view. Connelly predicted that butanol, which is better suited for fuel than ethanol, and ethanol from sources other than corn will be feasible within three or four years, particularly with government support.

Startups such as Gevo Inc., which has venture backing from Richard Branson's Virgin Fuels and Khosla Ventures, already are working with better biological processes for producing butanol, but real breakthroughs likely will come when companies like DuPont support startup development of genetically modified seed to create better fuel properties at the feedstock level. Already there are moves in that direction, and most venture-backed startups in this area, including Ceres Inc, Targeted Growth Inc. and Mendel Biotechnology Inc., have shifted focus from food crops to fuels. - Clifford Carlsen

See Jan. 14 story from Reuters

See July 19, 2007, story from TheDeal.com [$$]

See Nov. 16, 2007, story from Corporate Dealmaker

For more see Biofuels Digest