Gevo update: Isobutanol lawsuit Round 2

Or is it round 3 now? It’s hard to keep track of Butamax’s and Gevo’s back and forth bio-isobutanol lawsuit these days.

Gevo announced today that the the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) granted the company two patents on bio-isobutanol production. Gevo also filed a lawsuit against Butamax and its parent company DuPont for allegedly infringing Gevo’s newly-issued patents.

Gevo said the lawsuit is based on Butamax’s own publications describing their use of the technology that Gevo claimed to have invented first and now received the patents.

Gevo’s patent 8,017,375, “Yeast Organism Producing Isobutanol at a High Yield” (PDC patent) focuses on the modification of yeast to produce isobutanol instead of ethanol. Patent 8,017,376, “Methods of Increasing Dihydroxy Acid Dehydratase Activity to Improve Production of Fuels, Chemicals, and Amino Acids” (“AFT Patent”) covers enzymatic steps on isobutanol production from yeast.

If readers recall, Butamax first filed its own lawsuit against Gevo on January, alleging that Gevo had infringed one of Butamax’s patents issued in December 2010. Butamax amended the lawsuit last month to include Butamax’s other newly received patent. I wonder if the people at the US PTO office have their popcorns already in hand to enjoy the fight.

Meanwhile, I was able to get great information from Gevo’s Investor Day meeting held in New York City last week. Here are some of the key highlights:

  • Gevo was talking about their process yield position already at 94% and theoretical yield at 41%. I wish I’ve listened more to my Engineering Economics professor so I’ll understand fully what these means. What Gevo said to the investors present is that these ultimately leads to low feedstock contribution costs, low operating costs and low capital costs. For 1 bushel of corn, the company said they can get 2.2 gallons of isobutanol and 17 lbs of animal feed.

  • Gevo’s Luverne, Minnesota, facility is on track to start in the first half of 2012. The Luverne facility has capacity to produce 18m gal/year bio-isobutanol but Gevo said it is currently retrofitting above this (via manipulation of their yeast). The Redfield, South Dakota, facility is expected to start in early 2013 (compared to initial expectation of Q4 2012) and has a capacity to produce 38m gal/year of bio-isobutanol.
  • Gevo expects to retrofit about 3 plants by the end of 2013, 6 plants by 2014 and 9 plants by 2015. Bio-isobutanol target production volume is around 10m gal/year during 2012, 60m gpy in 2013, 200m gpy in 2014 and target 350m gpy in 2015.
  • Gevo’s target isobutanol selling price is as follows: $3.5-4/gal by 2012; $3.7-4/gal by 2013; $3.5-4/gal by 2014, and $2.95-4.40/gal by 2015. Gevo estimates theoretical cash costs to produce bio-isobutanol at an average of $1.60/gal, or $1.00/gal lower than petroleum-based isobutanol during the period from 2006-2011.
  • Lanxess said it is now in the final stage of contract negotiations with Gevo for the supply of isobutanol so they can make isobutene (for rubber application) in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Lanxess aims to produce at least 50% of its 150,000 tonnes/year in butyl rubber production from bio-isobutene at the Sarnia facility. The companies did not disclose how much is that in equivalent to bio-isobutanol consumption. Lanxess said they would like to see isobutanol coming from Gevo by 2013 but at the latest by mid-decade.
  • With regards to the development of paraxylene (PX) made from bio-isobutanol, Gevo said it is currently discussing a bio-PX joint development agreement with a third party which it plans to announce by the fourth quarter. Gevo and its partner Toray Industries are also moving from from lab-scale “proof of concept” to establishing commercial-scale operations for the bio-PX. Gevo expects to go to pilot stage next year and targets 2014 for commercialization phase of the project. Toray is expected to be part of the commercialization phase.

UPDATE (9/14/11 at 10:30am):

Butamax issued a statement on the Gevo lawsuit and said that the allegation is “baseless and irresponsible.” Butamax also noted that the Gevo patents are based on Butamax’s technology “and cannot be practiced to make isobutanol without infringing Butamax’s right.”


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One Response to Gevo update: Isobutanol lawsuit Round 2

  1. Jerry Jeff 14 September, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    In this case a maximum theoretical yield of 41% means that if they put 100 g of sugar in they get 41 g of butanol out. I assume that the 94% process yield means they are getting 94% of that value (38.5 g butanol/100 g sugar). If correct, that’s pretty impressive for a compound that the yeast do not like.

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