Gevo announces $5 million USDA grant, contract with Air Force

By Holly Jessen | September 29, 2011

Sept. 28 was a big day for Gevo Inc. The advanced biofuels company announced it had been awarded $5 million to develop biojet fuel from woody biomass and forest product residues. It also said it had been awarded a contract to supply jet fuel to the U.S. Air Force.

The company, which is currently in the process of converting two corn-ethanol plants to isobutanol production, believes that woody biomass can be used as a cellulosic feedstock to create petroleum replacements such as isobutanol. Gevo has done airline engine testing on starch-derived isobutanol to jet fuel and expects to receive ASTM fuel certification for its biojet fuel by 2013. “The airline industry and the United States Department of Defense are eagerly looking for near-term alternatives to petroleum-based jet fuel,” said Patrick Gruber, Gevo CEO. “Woody biomass has the potential to be a cost-effective and sustainable option for biorefineries. This project should help accelerate the commercial deployment of cellulosic biorefineries, grow the economy in rural America and contribute to home grown energy independence.”

Gevo is also working with South Hampton Resources Inc. to build a demonstration plant, currently under construction in Silsbee, Texas. The hydrocarbon processing plant will convert up to 120,000 gallons of isobutanol a year into jet fuel, isooctane for gasoline and more. The isobutanol can be from any feedstock, from starch, sucrose or cellulosic biomass, Jack Huttner, executive vice president of corporate development and public affairs, told EPM. “We reserve the option but have no immediate plans to convert a starch plant to a biomass plant at the moment,” he said.

The $5 million in funding is part of more than $137 million for five major agricultural research projects announced Sept. 28 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The funding is through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Gevo’s award, which will be used to optimize its cellulosic yeast and fermentation processes, is part of $40 million awarded to Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, a research team led by Washington State University. “This project is a great fit for the plant we are building near Houston with South Hampton Resources,” said Christopher Ryan, president and chief operating officer of Gevo. “The aviation industry understands our plans to use cellulosic feedstocks, such as woody biomass, as soon as practical. They will see this project as real progress toward achieving this goal.”

The remaining four projects include: $40 million for research on using woody energy crops to produce biogasoline and renewable aviation fuel, $25 million to develop a regional biomass production system for native perennial grasses, $17.2 million for production of energy cane and sorghum and $15 million to develop sustainable feedstock production systems to produce diesel, heat and power. For more information, check out the USDA press release. 

The Air Force contract, worth a possible total of $600,000, stipulates that Gevo will supply up to 11,000 gallons of alcohol-to-jet fuel for engine testing and feasibility flight demonstration with an A-10 aircraft. The fuel will be produced at the demo plant in southeastern Texas and will be shipped to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located near Dayton, Ohio. “The USAF is committed to positioning itself to integrate cost competitive alternative aviation fuels for up to half of its domestic needs by 2016,” Ryan said. “Once the USAF certifies our ATJ fuel, we believe we will have an excellent opportunity to become a supplier of homegrown and renewable jet fuel to our armed services.”