Gevo, ICM partner to produce isobutanol

By Erin Voegele | October 06, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 3, 2008 at 10:36 a.m. CST

Colorado-based Gevo Inc., a biotechnology company, and Kansas-based ICM Inc. have formed a strategic alliance to advance the commercial development of Gevo's Integrated Fermentation Technology (GIFT), which enables retrofitted ethanol plants to produce isobutanol and hydrocarbons.

According to terms of the agreement, a demonstration plant will be built at ICM's St. Joseph, Mo., biofuels research center. ICM will serve as the exclusive engineering, procurement and construction contractor for the retrofit of ethanol plants utilizing GIFT. Gevo will be ICM's exclusive technology partner for the production of butanols, pentanols and propanols. The strategic alliance will reduce the time needed to commercialize the technology.

Retrofitting an ethanol plant with GIFT involves replacing the biocatalyst, or yeast, with a microorganism that produces a high quality, high purity stream of isobutanol, said Tom Dries, Gevo's vice president of business development. The retrofit also includes making some modifications to the separation process. GIFT replaces ethanol production technology at a plant. However, if a plant has two fermentation streams, it's possible to retrofit one stream, creating a plant that produces both ethanol and isobutanol.

The technology has currently been proven with corn and sugar feedstocks. "We've tested it on mixed sugars as well," Dries said. GIFT will also be able to utilize biomass feedstocks once cellulosic technology becomes commercially available.

According to Dries, isobutanol makes an ideal platform molecule. It can be used directly in fuel blends, similar to ethanol. It can also be processed into renewable jet fuel and renewable diesel. "On the chemical side, it is also a precursor for a lot of different chemicals that wind up in the plastics and fibers businesses," Dries said.

Dries expects it will cost approximately $30 million to retrofit a 100 MMgy ethanol plant. The demonstration plant built by Gevo and ICM is expected to produce approximately 1MMgy, which will allow the companies to collect engineering data and produce reasonable quantities of isobutanol for research. "We expect to have our first commercial plant up and running in the first quarter of 2011," Dries said.