Gevo, Beta Renewables sign joint development agreement

By Erin Voegele | July 12, 2012

Gevo Inc. has signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with Beta Renewables, a joint venture between Chemtex and TPG. Under the agreement, the two companies will work integrate their respective technologies for the production of cellulosic isobutanol. According to information released by the companies, the agreement also anticipates commercialization of the technology upon project success, which could enable renewably sourced, competitively priced jet fuel as well as other chemicals and fuels made from isobutanol.

Gevo’s proprietary integrated fermentation technology platform (GIFT) consists of a yeast biocatalyst that converts sugars into isobutanol, and a proprietary separation unit. The company also features alcohol to jet (ATJ) technology, which can produce biobased jet fuels from alcohols such as isobutanol. Beta Renewables Proesa technology converts cellulosic biomass into a high quality stream of sugars. According to information published by Beta Renewables, Proesa combines an enzymatic pretreatment process with fermentation. Once integrated, the companies’ technologies are expected to enable the production of isobutanol using cellulosic sugars.

Steve Weiss, an advisor to Beta Renewables, said that the current JDA essentially means the two companies will work together in an effort to optimize the integration of Beta Renewables’ front end Proesa process and Gevo’s back end GIFT and TPG technologies. He noted that work could include making slight adjustments to the Proesa technology to tune the sugar stream, as well as slight adjustments to Gevo’s GIFT technology to optimize the process for cellulosic sugars.

“The integration of these technologies would be tested at kind of a pilot scale,” Weiss said. However, no announcements releasing specific details on the anticipated size or scale of that potential pilot project have been made.

Weiss also noted that while the desire and intent of the parties is to prove that the technologies can be combined in a way that enables the production of less expensive isobutanol, and the hope is to scale up that process in the future, he stressed that no announcements are being made at this time in regard to what the potential business structure or licensing arrangement of a future commercial scale operation would be. For the moment, he said, Beta Renewables and Gevo are simply going to work together to coordinate how their respective technologies work together.

While the two companies haven’t made any announcements regarding commercial production of cellulosic isbobutanol, each is moving forward with respective commercial-scale projects.

Gevo is nearing commercial production of biobased isobutanol using first generation sugars. On July 10 the company announced that it has successfully fermented isobutanol in 250,000 fermenters at its Luverne, Minn. plant, isolated the product and moved it into tanks and railcars.

“The learnings gained in achieving this milestone are enormous and further de-risk our technology,” said Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber. “I have to give credit to our team at Luverne, including our employees, the ICM team and all of our contractors for their hard work in overcoming so many obstacles to get this far in such a short period of time.”

Beta Renewables is also nearing commercial deployment of its Proesa technology. According to Weiss, a 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy that utilizes the technology is scheduled to be operational by the end of the year. The project is nearly mechanically complete, he said.