Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Butanol from Cellulose: Better Fuel, Better Feedstock

The California Institute of Technology has spawned a bio-energy startup, Gevo. Gevo has recently acquired new financing to pursue its goal of efficient production of cellulosic bio-butanol. Butanol is a superior fuel for gasoline engines than ethanol, blending better with gasoline and causing much less corrosion than ethanol. Progress in the efficient and economical production of bio-butanol would be much welcomed.
Gevo, the Pasadena, Calif., based developer of synthetic biofuels just wrapped up a $17 million third round of funding. New investors Burrill & Co. and Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund joined cleantech regulars Khosla Ventures and Virgin Green Fund; the biofuel start-up has already raised over $30 million since the beginning of last year.

Like competitors LS9, OPX Biotechnologies and Amyris, Gevo is trying to change the face of the biofuel industry by using synthetic biology to engineer enzymes and microorganisms to convert cellulosic crops and waste into advanced biofuels like isobutanol and butanol. Butanol, the company claims, is superior to first-generation biofuels like corn ethanol in several respects: It has a higher energy content; does not absorb water and can easily be transported through the existing gas infrastructure; and — perhaps most importantly — can be directly pumped into current vehicles.

Gevo says its metabolic and process engineering techniques will facilitate the commercial-scale production of second-generation biofuels and bring costs down to compete with current biofuels, like corn ethanol. The cost of producing cellulolytic enzymes hovers around 20 - 50 cents per gallon of ethanol produced; the cost of producing a gallon of corn ethanol, on the other hand, is only about 3 - 4 cents. __CheckBiotech

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