Gevo claims to have harpooned industrial biotech’s white whale: Viable renewable isoprene

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In Colorado, Gevo has developed a catalytic route to convert biobased alcohols into isoprene, a precursor to rubber.

The process uses “fusel oils,” a mixture of alcohols that are byproducts from fermentation processes such as ethanol production.  The ethanol industry alone generates 2.5 million tons of this waste annually. The market for isoprene is expected to reach $4 billion by 2025, with 7% annual growth driven by the automotive sector.

“Renewable, low-carbon, low-cost isoprene has been pursued by a lot of companies over the years without commercial success.  Fermentation processes were always deemed to be too expensive to make isoprene directly,” says Dr. Patrick Gruber, Chief Executive Officer of Gevo. “[However, o]ur team was able to translate what we learned while developing renewable, sustainable jet fuel and isooctane, to enable other viable alcoholic feedstocks.”

Gevo will pursue a licensing strategy, offering the technology to ethanol producers who want to improve the profitability of their facilities, chemical plants that want cost competitive low-carbon isoprene, or standalone businesses.