Gevo, United States

Gevo was founded in 2005 on the basis of a proprietary technology that makes it possible to retrofit ethanol plants to produce isobutanol, which can be used directly in internal combustion engines or can serve as a base for other hydrocarbon production.

Technology

Ethanol is a relatively poor fuel because it has a low energy density. That is to say, a gallon of ethanol will not get you as far as a gallon of gasoline. It is also the case that ethanol is corrosive to standard rubber engine components, which means vehicles must be modified to burn ethanol. Isobutanol, on the other hand, has an energy density similar to that of gasoline and can be burned in standard engines without the need for modification. Gevo has capitalized on the large ethanol production capacity in the United States by developing a retrofit that can be applied to existing ethanol plants so that they produce isobutanol instead. The retrofit includes proprietary yeast developed to produce isobutanol.

The yeast technology is separate from the separation unit technology, which can be bolted to existing ethanol facilities to allow for isobutanol production. In essence, the retrofit would contain two pieces of intellectual property, the yeast itself and the apparatus to contain it.

Legal Issues

The company now owns multiple patents related to its isobutanol yeast technology. In 2010, the company was sued by Butamax Advanced Biofuels (a joint venture between BP and DuPont) over several of its intellectual property holdings. The case is still pending and is currently in the U.S Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The case ultimately revolves around who owns the patent to the genetically modified yeast that produces isobutanol. The lawsuit has had some impact on Gevo’s stock and its ability to raise capital.