Another big collaboration — this one between DuPont and Genencor, a division of Danisco A/S — is further evidence that multinational companies see a potential profit in cellulosic ethanol. The companies have agreed to form a joint venture to develop and commercialize next-generation biofuels from feedstocks such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse.

DuPont and its Pioneer Hi-Bred business will work with Genencor, a leader in the development and production of enzymes for cellulose conversion, to better understand the enzymatic processes (including pretreatment and fermentation of cellulosic feedstock) and increase biomass productivity per acre.

Increasing grain production by 40% in the next 10 years is possible, Sanders says, adding that Pioneer's goal is to help develop corn that could produce as much as 750 gal. of ethanol/acre from grain within 10 years, up from the current 500 gal./acre. With corn stover, grain fiber, cobs and advanced processing technologies, a cornfield could take that level up to as much as 1,000 gal./acre, he says.

Pioneer's work on corn stover and cobs will help researchers better understand what other factors they should be exploiting without going backward on grain production, Sanders says. The company is researching dry-down potential as well as improving handling, storage and transportation.

In addition, Pioneer breeders are working on high biomass forage sorghum and sweet sorghum. Traditionally grown across the southern U.S., sweet sorghum varieties could be developed for more northern environments, Sanders says. The company also is exploring the use of genetic marker technology to produce forage sorghum hybrids that could yield more than 10 to 15 tons/acre.