Gov. Terry Branstad, Sen. Chuck Grassley, and other dignitaries were in smiling attendance in October 2015 for the grand opening of the ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa — the largest plant ever to turn cellulosic material, such as corn husks, into fuel.
"[F]rom conception to commercialization," Grassley bragged in an op-ed in the Ames Tribune, "Iowa's newest ethanol biorefinery is a by-product of Iowa ingenuity, innovation and investment."
Grassley bragged that the "brand-new, state-of-the-art, next-generation, $225 million cellulosic ethanol production facility" was expected to "convert 370,000 dry tons of corn stover to 30 million gallons of fuel-grade ethanol each year. Corn stover is what's left over from the harvest. Think cobs, leaves, husks and stalks."
Grassley gushed over the DuPont-owned plant, "As Iowa's senior U.S. senator, I welcome Iowa's shining new star to America's renewable energy constellation."
This week, two years later, DuPont shut the Nevada plant down. Agriculture.com reports that this wasn't totally unexpected. "There have been signs that the plant wasn’t producing up to its potential. Last year, DuPont stopped collecting corn stover from farmers because the plant had run out of storage."
Most ethanol is made of corn. It's basically unaged corn whiskey — moonshine. Cellulosic ethanol was supposed to be the next generation, and an improvement, because it didn't involve turning dinner (or whiskey) into fuel. Cellulosic ethanol would use leftovers.
But it hasn't panned out. Reuters reports: "The EPA predicted in 2007 that U.S. cellulosic ethanol production could hit 1 billion gallons by 2020, but output this year is expected to reach only 7 million gallons, according to Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a trade group."
Here's a graphic depiction of that shortfall:
DuPont built this plant in an attempt to profit off of the 2007 ethanol mandate, also known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. This bet on politics hasn't paid off.