DuPont Teams With NexSteppe to Develop Biofuel Feedstocks

DuPont Co., the largest U.S. chemicals company by market value, has invested in closely held energy-crop company NexSteppe Inc. to develop feedstocks for biofuels and other bio-based products.

DuPont didn’t disclose the size of its equity investment, Jane Bachmann, a spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. NexSteppe, which last month received $14 million in a round of funding led by Braemar Energy Ventures, will partner with Pioneer Hi-Bred, DuPont’s seed unit.

“There’s going to be some information and data exchange,” Bachmann said.

NexSteppe, based in Malibu, California, develops breeding programs for sorghum and switchgrass, which can be converted into biofuel or burned at power plants. The company has developed sweet sorghum that’s now being used in commercial trials at ethanol mills in Brazil, Chief Executive Officer Anna Rath said in a telephone interview today.

Ethanol mills that crush sugar cane seven to nine months a year can remain operational an additional one to two months by using sweet sorghum, Rath said.

“By adding sweet sorghum alongside sugar cane, they will now be able to run those mills more months out of the year and improve the costs of ethanol production,” Rath said. “It can be harvested with the same equipment, it can be crushed with the same equipment, it can be fermented with the same yeast, so it’s a drop-in into their existing process.”

The collaboration with Pioneer begins immediately, said Rath, who declined to elaborate on specific projects or target dates for future products.

DuPont shares gained 1.1 percent to $47.02 at the close in New York. DuPont in June acquired Copenhagen-based Danisco A/S, the second-largest maker of industrial enzymes, which are used to make biofuels. DuPont plans to start construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant this year.

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