Lightning causes feedstock fire near DuPont cellulosic facility

By Erin Voegele | August 17, 2016

A lightning strike is the suspected cause of a second fire that has impacted feedstock storage areas associated with DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa, in August.

DuPont has reported that a suspected lightning strike set fire to a stover bale in Story County, Iowa, during the early morning of Aug. 17. Nevada is located in central Story County.

According to DuPont, the company has multiple storage sites in Story County and other surrounding counties for the stover that is used as feedstock in the cellulosic ethanol plant.

“As always, DuPont’s first priority is the safety and security of local community members and our employees,” said a company spokesperson in a statement. “We are hard at work today in partnership with the Zearing fire department and Story County Emergency Management to contain the fire, monitor it closely, under the direction of local authorities, and are following strict safety protocol to manage it in a contained and supervised manner.”

In its statement, DuPont stressed that stover—which is made of corn stocks, leaves and cobs—poses no threats to the environment as it burns. DuPont also noted that the Aug. 17 fire is unrelated to a separate stover bale fire that was caused by a lightning strike on Aug. 4 and said the company continues to work with local authorities to minimize the risk associated with lightning strikes.

“While these fires are unfortunate, summer storms will not affect the progress of our cellulosic ethanol program,” said DuPont in the statement. “The damage to the stockpile has been relatively minor, and we are still on track to deliver positive economic opportunities to the Story County area and safely cement Nevada as the hub of the global cellulosic ethanol technology revolution.”

An estimated 10,000 bales of corn stover were lost as a result of the stover fire that occurred Aug. 4, but the cellulosic facility itself was unaffected. Following that incident, Jan Koninckx, global biofuels director at DuPont, told Biomass Magazine that the DuPont has been working to minimize the risk associated with this type of event. He indicated that feedstock storage and the potential for natural events like this lightning strike are part of working in the cellulosic biofuel industry. We are learning how to reduce the risk of this type of event over time, he said, noting DuPont is looking at how to best build a stack of bales and how to space them.

“It’s a matter of us finding way to economically reduce the risk,” Koninckx said, adding that DuPont has reached out to a number of government organizations to recommend research be conducted on the topic of biomass storage. It’s not just an issue that impacts cellulosic biofuel producers, he stressed. Rather, the issue is one that generally impacts agriculture. Research findings would benefit to anyone stacking hay in a field, including farmers not active in the cellulosic biofuel space.