The Biobased chemicals and fuels firm Gevo has signed a joint development agreement with Beta Renewables aimed at producing isobutyl alcohol from cellulosic biomass. Beta Renewables is a cellulosic sugars joint venture between investment company TPG and engineering firm Chemtex, an arm of the Italian chemical producer Mossi & Ghisolfi.
To date, Gevo’s commercialization strategy has focused on retrofitting midwestern ethanol facilities that use corn sugar as a feedstock. It will use the facilities to produce isobutyl alcohol for the chemical and fuel markets.
Using cellulosic biomass should allow Gevo to access a larger carbohydrate pool, “which helps keep costs down and enables production facilities in regions of the world rich in biomass resources,” said Gevo’s chief operating officer, Christopher Ryan, while announcing the agreement last week at the Biomass 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. In June, Gevo revealed plans to start a cellulosic isobutyl alcohol facility in Malaysia in a partnership with national and local governments.
Beta Renewables will contribute its Proesa technology for enzymatic pretreatment of nonfood biomass, including agricultural waste, to produce cellulosic sugars. The sugars can then be fermented by Gevo’s isobutyl alcohol-producing microbes.
Another goal of the collaboration will be to make biobased jet fuel as part of a U.S. Department of Defense project to expand fuel sourcing beyond petroleum fuels. The program aims to produce cost-competitive cellulosic jet fuel for the military. Gevo is a member of a task force that is working to certify alcohol-derived jet fuel with ASTM International, a standards organization.
Gevo also announced that it has begun producing isobutyl alcohol at its retrofitted plant in Luverne, Minn. Some of the initial production will go to South African chemical and fuel firm Sasol and other customers the firm has lined up. “We still have a lot of work to do: improve plant reliability, improve yields, improve throughput, and improve quality. With any new technology, there is a lot to learn,” Gevo CEO Patrick R. Gruber said in a statement.
Successful production at the Luverne plant will please Gevo’s investors, points out Mike Ritzenthaler, a stock analyst at investment bank Piper Jaffray. A current concern for investors is Gevo’s ongoing patent litigation with competitor Butamax (C&EN, June 4, page 18). “For now, investors couldn’t care less about what’s going on in cellulosics,” he says.