Tuesday, Gevo, Inc. a renewable chemicals and next-generation biofuels company, announced that it shipped initial volumes of renewable isobutanol produced in 250,000-gallon commercial fermenters and processed at its Luverne, Minn., plant.

The company highlights the Luverne plant—which fits into the company plans to convert corn ethanol production facilities into isobutanol production facilities—as the “world’s first commercial biobased isobutanol production facility.”

Gevo is sending isobutanol to both chemical and non-automobile fuel customers with major marketing plans for increasing shipments of isobutanol in a rapid ramp-up of production.

“Shipping from the Luverne plant is a major industry milestone, as it represents the first commercial biobased isobutanol delivery of any bio-industrial company. Earlier, Gevo had retrofitted the Luverne facility to incorporate its proprietary yeast and Gevo Integrated Fermentation Technology (GIFT) system to produce biobased isobutanol,” the company announced.  

Through initial operations at Luverne, Gevo has advanced its learning of large-scale production of renewable isobutanol and expects to reach full-capacity run rates by year-end 2013, according to Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., president and chief operating officer at Gevo.  The speed of production ramp-up is enhanced by the retrofit approach Gevo is taking, he added.

The company has attempted to explain Gevo’s proprietary GIFT system for low-cost renewable isobutanol by pointing out there are two elements involved: “a proprietary yeast biocatalyst, which converts sugars derived from multiple renewable feedstocks into isobutanol and a proprietary separation unit, which is designed to bolt onto existing ethanol facilities.”

Gevo officials contend the bolt on aspect should allow Gevo to fit its technology into existing ethanol plants and thereby reduce related capital expenditures compared to less efficient fermentation processes. The GIFT platform is “designed to enable the economic production of isobutanol from multiple renewable feedstocks,” which includes grains, sugar cane and various cellulosic feedstocks.

Bringing the Luverne plant on line has occurred at the same time as Gevo was filing suit against Butamax and Dupont Company to have those companies stop “ongoing infringement” of a Gevo patent “covering the production of isobutanol with genetically engineered microorganisms.” That lawsuit was announced Aug. 6 from the headquarters of Gevo, Englewood, Colo. Gevo reported it has more than 400 patents and patent applications.

A search of records indicates this lawsuit is not the only one related to isobutanol production and there has been one or more lawsuits filed against Gevo.

Being able to produce low-cost isobutanol is a big money business in terms of potential profit from all indications, and companies are looking to cash in. “Isobutanol is an extremely versatile molecule that can be used for production of everything from the gasoline blendstock of the future to jet fuel and from automotive tires to soft drink bottles,” said Brett Lund, executive vice-president and general counsel for Gevo.