Long patent dispute over production of isobutanol ends

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gevo Inc., the producer of a renewable fuel alternative to ethanol, said today that the end of a long-running patent dispute would allow it to boost production of its fuel.

Gevo and Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture of BP PLC and DuPont Industrial Biosciences, last month announced a cross-licensing agreement to end their legal quarrel, which had stretched for more than four years and involved several patents for isobutanol technology (E&ENews PM, Aug. 24).

Calling the dispute a “distraction,” Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber today said that his company now aims to increase its production of isobutanol in 2016 up to 10 times its 2015 production. Gevo also will decrease the cost of producing a gallon of isobutanol by 50 percent from current levels, Gruber said.

“The settlement with Butamax eliminated a significant cost and uncertainty in our business,” Gruber said. “We are now in a position to devote the majority of our resources to the commercialization of isobutanol, now that this distraction is behind us.”

Isobutanol, also known as biobutanol, is considered an advanced biofuel that can be used in higher volumes in petroleum fuel than conventional ethanol. Because it contains less oxygen than ethanol, isobutanol can also be used in marine engines without worries about corrosion.

The boat industry, which has been critical of the federal law mandating increased use of ethanol, has endorsed isobutanol as its preferred biofuel. Gevo and Butamax are leading the development of commercial-scale quantities of the fuel in the United States.

Gevo, a publicly traded company, has retrofitted an ethanol production facility in Luverne, Minn., to produce isobutanol. With the lawsuit behind the company, Gruber said the facility will produce between 750,000 and 1 million gallons of the fuel next year, between seven and 10 times current production levels.

The company also aims to produce the isobutanol for a cost of $3 to $3.50 a gallon, Gruber said, which would represent a decrease of 50 percent from current cost and allow Gevo to turn a profit off the sale of its fuel.

The company plans to pump $5 million into the Luverne facility over the next three to six months to install equipment to bring more of its production process on-site. Gevo will target jet fuel, marina, off-road vehicle and solvent markets for sale of its fuel, Gruber said.

“The completion of the settlement is a key driver behind the decision to improve Luverne’s capabilities,” Gruber said. “I’m really pleased to be leveraging our stronger balance sheet to spend money on the plant rather than spending it on lawyers.”