South Dakota ethanol plant inks isobutanol deal with Gevo

By Holly Jessen | June 16, 2011

Gevo Inc., the company currently working on a retrofit of an ethanol plant in Luverne, Minn., has announced a joint venture with Redfield Energy LLC, a 50 MMgy ethanol plant in Redfield, S.D. The retrofit to isobutanol production is expected to begin before the end of the year and commercial production is anticipated in the fourth quarter of 2012. “Redfield is an exceptionally well-run and profitable plant,” said Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber. “We appreciate the vision and leadership of the Redfield board and its cooperative membership and look forward to working with them on this business.”

Gevo purchased Agri-Energy LLC, a 22 MMgy ethanol plant in Luverne, summer 2010 and broke ground on the isobutanol retrofit May 31. Gevo expects to have retrofitted and fully transitioned the plant to 18 MMgy isobutanol production by June 2012.

In the case of Redfield Energy, Gevo will provide the technology and capital for the retrofit to 38 MMgy of isobutanol production. In exchange, it will receive an equity interest in the plant. “Isobutanol provides an excellent opportunity to expand our potential markets, improve our profit margins and create a more predictable and sustainable business,” said Tom Hitchcock, CEO of Redfield. “We are very happy to be working with Gevo to upgrade our facility to a second-generation biorefinery.”

With isobutanol production in Luverne and Redfield, Gevo expects to produce about 60 MMgy by 2012. A third ethanol plant, the name of which has not yet been announced, signed a letter of intent for joint venture with Gevo. All told, Gevo plans to have about 110 MMgy of isobutanol capacity online by 2013.

Switching to isobutanol production lowers the total capacity of the plant. However, Gevo said, because isobutanol has a higher energy content than ethanol, the total Btu produced will be the same. According to information on the company’s website, while ethanol contains 65 percent of the net energy of gasoline, isobutanol contains 82 percent of the net energy of gasoline. On the octane side, the blend octane of isobutanol is 102 compared to blend octane of 112 for ethanol and 87 for gasoline. Blend values were measured for E10 and 12.5 percent isobutanol.

Gevo believes isobutanol is a good alternative to ethanol. It can replace or be blended with petrochemicals as a specialty chemical, a gasoline and jet fuel blend stock and through conversion into plastics, fibers rubber and other polymers. “Using isobutanol as blendstock in fuels like gasoline creates fuel that performs better and has more energy per unit than today’s gasoline, while reducing its environmental impact, greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions,” the company said.