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Published April 02, 2012, 08:28 AM

Gevo in the news

REDFIELD, S.D. — Redfield Energy LLC of Redfield, S.D., is switching from ethanol to isobutanol in a project funded by Gevo Inc., a biofuel technology company in Englewood, Colo.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

REDFIELD, S.D. — Redfield Energy LLC of Redfield, S.D., is switching from ethanol to isobutanol in a project funded by Gevo Inc., a biofuel technology company in Englewood, Colo.

Here is a brief summary of recent articles on isobutanol, listed on the Gevo website:

March 11: The Minneapolis Star Tribunereports on Luverne, Minn., the nation’s first “commercial-scale corn isobutanol plant,” but says state law doesn’t make it part of the mandated 10 percent ethanol mix for the state. The part of the state law that mandates ethanol has a sunset provision. Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, is sponsoring a bill that would extend the law but not broaden it. Brian Kletscher, CEO of Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton, Minn., favors passing the extension and changing it later. Highwater is in discussions with Butamax Advanced Biofuels, a company in a patent dispute with Gevo Inc.

March 2: AOL Energy, an online publication, produced by AOL Industry, names Gevo Inc. one of a handful of biofuel companies that is entering the market with commercial-scale isobutanol. Gevo will use a “yeast-based process that ‘makes scotch taste like scotch,’” they say, quoting Jack Huttner, Gevo’s executive vice president of commercial and public affairs. The first market will be for paint, solvents, cleaning agents, lacquers and nail polish. The company plans to “scale up to 350 million gallons of transportation fuels by 2015.” Credits will be awarded under the Renewable Fuel Standard 2, which has targets of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022, the article says, including 4 billion gallons of advanced biofuel.

Feb. 24: BoatUS, a Boat Owners Association of the United States publication, writes that increasing the ethanol blend for boats to E15 is not legal. “BoatUS suggests that butanol, an alcohol with a characteristic banana-like odor typically made from corn and beet byproducts, may be an answer.” Butanol is less corrosive and doesn’t attract moisture, which can cause “phase separation” in the fuel. It delivers 110,000 Btu per gallon compared to ethanol’s 84,000 Btu. With ethanol subsidies expired, and new technologies, the costs to produce both fuels are similar “although butanol is ultimately far less expensive” in terms of the “amount of energy delivered per gallon.”

Feb. 22: Ethanol Producer Magazine reports that 2012 could be the turning point when the ethanol industry transforms itself. Biobutanol is “high on the list of contenders.” BP and DuPont’s joint venture, Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, has formed an Early Adopters Group for existing ethanol makers who collaborate with isobutanol retrofits. Highwater Ethanol LLC of Lamberton, Minn., had “signed on” to retrofit its 50-million-gallon per year ethanol plant.

Meanwhile, Gevo Inc., of Englewood, Colo., is converting the Luverne, Minn., based CORN-er Stone Farmers Co-op to produce 18 million gallons per year and the Redfield Energy plant with 38 million gallons. Green Biologics Inc. is merging Ohio’s Butylfuel Inc. with United Kingdom–based Green Biologics Ltd., and looking for U.S. ethanol partners to retrofit its butanol production capabilities onto existing facilities. While ethanol seeks E15 implementation, “butanol can currently be blended at up to 12.5 percent by volume,” and is defined as “substantially similar” to gasoline under the U.S. Clean Air Act. Isobutanol has 30 percent more energy than ethanol, the magazine notes, and generates 1.3 renewable identification numbers (RINs) per gallon, compared with 1 RIN for ethanol. Gevo has committed its production for the next two years to Sasol Chemical Industries Ltd. for the chemical market. Gevo “envisions a production model that would allow ethanol plants to produce their own 100 percent, biobased E85 by replacing petroleum-based gasoline with butanol, the magazine says. “If you have a bolt-on butanol plant and you produce butanol using 15 percent of the corn volume, you could produce E85 with butanol and sell it directly to your regional distributor.”

Feb. 1: Biofuels Digest reports that there are 14 billion gallons of installed corn ethanol capacity in the U.S., and that the Renewable Fuel Standard “does not mandate ethanol.” “We believe that the fleet can convert to biobutanol by 2022,” the publication says. Producers “would do so, to produce higher value molecules, and working around the E10 ‘blend wall’ which limits the U.S. to about 13.5 billion gallons of ethanol via blending at the refineries.” The article notes that isobutanol sells for $1,400 per ton, while n-butanol sells for $1,500 per ton and ethanol is at around $700 per ton.

Dec. 21: Technology Review, published by Massachusetts institute of Technology, describes Gevo as a “prominent advanced-biofuel company that has received millions in U.S. government funding to develop fuels made from cellulosic sources such as grasses and wood chips, is finding that it can’t use these materials if it hopes to survive” and is instead shifting to corn. And it will make chemicals, not fuel. The Luverne retrofit, to make “butanol” will cost about $40 million, “a fraction of the hundreds of millions it costs to build a new plant.”

Gevo has a partnership with Coca-Cola to make plastic bottles from plants. It is making 11,000 gallons of jet fuel for the U.S. Air Force to test in planes, and the contract will cover a 10,000-gallon-per-month jet fuel demonstration plant.

Dec. 12: Chemical and Engineering News features companies, including Gevo, for efforts to use biobased rubber ingredients to replace materials made from latex-bearing trees and rubber synthesized from petroleum feedstocks. Isobutene is a four-carbon intermediate used to make butyl rubber and styrene-butadiene rubber. Goodyear and Michelin are among the companies in partnerships, motivated by tight supplies and volatile prices for natural and synthetic rubber, driven by global demand, especially in emerging companies. The new rubber, made from renewable sources, won’t be commercially available for three to five years. Gevo is in a partnership with specialty chemical maker Lanxess.

“Gevo’s scientists engineered a yeast strain to produce isobutyl alcohol from sugar by blocking competing pathways for ethanol and acetic acid,” the article explains. “Lanxess researchers added a dehydration process to convert isobutyl alcohol to isobutene, which can be polymerized to butyl rubber.” Lanxess invested $27 million into Gevo and is a major shareholder. Christopher Ryan, Gevo’s president and chief operating officer, says the economics are “acceptable with corn sugar as a feedstock” and look “even better with sugar derived from cellulose.”