Luverne Ethanol Plant to Become Isobutanol Producer

Colorado-based Gevo is beginning a $22 million retrofit of the Luverne facility-which will become the world's first commercial-scale bio-based isobutanol plant.

Gevo, Inc., broke ground Tuesday on its ethanol plant in Luverne-a plant that will eventually be able to produce 18 million gallons of bio-based isobutanol each year.

Isobutanol is a naturally occurring alcohol that Englewood, Colorado-based Gevo will make from corn. Petroleum refineries typically make it from oil at a cost that's reported to be much higher.

The retrofit of the Luverne plant, which is expected to be completed by next summer, will make it the world's first commercial-scale bio-based isobutanol plant.

Bio-based isobutanol is being touted as a means to end the United States' dependency on petroleum because it can be used to replace petroleum for a variety of products.

At first, Gevo will market isobutanol to chemical companies, which use it to produce solvents, coatings, plastics, fibers, lubricants, and other products. But eventually, the company also will market it as fuel-starting with the aviation industry, a Gevo spokeswoman said Tuesday.

“Isobutanol made from renewable raw materials can be used to make a variety of everyday products such as rubber, plastics, and fuel, and is a versatile solution to help displace our country's dependency on petroleum and create a bio-based economy,” Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber said in a statement. “Through this retrofit, Gevo is providing a high-value product that supports our nation's agriculture industry.”

Gevo acquired the Luverne plant from Agri-Energy, LLC, in 2010. It now employs 27 people.

Earlier this year, Gevo signed letters of intent to retrofit two other Upper Midwest ethanol plants-which it hasn't yet named-to accommodate isobutanol production. Those two conversions would be joint ventures.

A Gevo spokeswoman said Tuesday morning that work on the Luverne plant will cost about $22 million, including about $17 million for the retrofit-a process that involves the installation of Gevo's specialized fermentation technology. It is estimated to cost about $23 million to retrofit each of the two other Upper Midwest plants, which each produce 50 million gallons of ethanol.