Gevo produces corn isobutanol, eyes 2G with Beta Renewables

By Kris Bevill | July 11, 2012

Colorado-based biobutanol firm Gevo Inc. announced July 10 it has successfully produced measurable amounts of isobutanol at its first commercial-scale facility, a retrofitted corn ethanol plant in Luverne, Minn., but the company expects to spend most of this year working out the kinks of the process.

“We’ve shown that we can successfully ferment isobutanol in 250,000 gallon commercial fermenters, isolate the product and get it into tanks and railcars,” Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber said in a news release. He credited the hard work of Gevo’s employees, ICM Inc.’s engineering team and other contractors involved in the two-year retrofit process for achieving the initial production. “We still have a lot of work to do: improve plant reliability, improve yields, improve throughput and improve quality,” Gruber said in the release. “With any new technology there is a lot to learn. We have made great progress so far, and I expect our team to continue to deliver – knocking down issues as they arise.”

The company did not release the exact number of gallons produced to date at the facility. “The initial isobutanol we produced is what we’d expect from startup,” Gruber said in the release. “We will use some of the isobutanol produced at Luverne to further shake down our finishing systems. We will also prepare some isobutanol for shipment to customers such as Sasol or others.”

Gevo announced in May that it had achieved initial start-up of the plant and had beaten its 12-month retrofit goal. At that time, the company said it expected to produce 1 million gallons of isobutanol by year’s end. The facility’s capacity is slated at 18 MMgy. Gevo said in May it expects to reach full capacity in 2013.

As corn-based isobutanol operations continue to advance at the Luverne plant, Gevo is also preparing to develop second-generation isobutanol capabilities elsewhere through a joint development agreement with Beta Renewables, a joint venture between Chemtex and TPG. The companies expect to incorporate Beta Renewables’ Proesa biomass pre-treatment technology with Gevo’s butanol technologies in facilities to be located near cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass, miscanthus and agricultural residues. “Gevo has always said that we are feedstock agnostic and, when the technology and feedstock supply chain are ready, we would use our isobutanol process with cellulosic feedstocks,” said Chris Ryan, Gevo’s chief operating officer and president, during a presentation at the recent U.S.DOE Biomass 2012 conference. He said the success at the Luverne facility along with the newly announced agreement with Beta Renewables puts Gevo in a position to lead in the areas of cellulosic isobutanol and isobutanol derivatives such as jet fuel.

Dario Giordano, chief technology of Beta Renewables, said the deal with Gevo is another example of the ability for his company’s technology to provide low-cost sugars for a variety of uses.

Gevo and Beta Renewables are currently evaluating opportunities to partner on U.S. and international projects and plan to eventually develop a licensable package for third parties interested in cellulosic isobutanol technology.