Case Study: Gevo, Inc.

Realizing the Payoff for Decarbonizing Every Step of the Production Process for Advanced Bio-Based Renewable Fuels

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Gevo, Inc., is a company that is commercializing the next generation of renewable premium gasoline, sustainable aviation fuel, and renewable diesel with the potential to achieve zero carbon emissions, addressing the market need of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with sustainable alternatives.

[Disclosure: Gevo, Inc., is a key player and investor, along with Blocksize Capital, in the development of Verity Tracking smart contracts and distributed ledger technology blockchain systems.]

Gevo uses low-carbon renewable-resource-based carbohydrates as raw materials, and is in an advanced state of developing renewable electricity and renewable natural gas for use in production processes, resulting in low-carbon fuels with substantially reduced carbon intensity (the industry term for the level of greenhouse gas emissions) across their lifecycle compared to standard petroleum fossil-based fuels.

Gevo’s products perform as well as or better than traditional fossil-based fuels in infrastructure and engines, but with substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to addressing the problems of fuels, Gevo’s technology also enables certain plastics, such as polyester, to be made with more sustainable ingredients.

The Challenge

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Gevo’s ability to penetrate the growing low-carbon fuels market depends on the price of oil and the value of abating carbon emissions that would otherwise increase greenhouse gas emissions. Gevo believes that its proven, patented, technology enabling the use of a variety of low-carbon sustainable feedstocks to produce price-competitive low carbon products such as gasoline components, jet fuel, and diesel fuel yields the potential to generate project and corporate returns that justify the build-out of a multi-billion-dollar business.

With a focus on decarbonizing its processes at every step, Gevo places a high value on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions chiefly to increase the impact of the widespread adoption its liquid transportation fuel in markets throughout the world. Gevo has left no stone unturned in the quest to remove carbon emissions from its processes and systems.

Gevo considers the Argonne GREET model (The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation) to be the state-of-the-art model to measure carbon intensity, and account for the real impact of transportation fuel, measuring a fuel from feedstock to production to combustion, with key factors taken into account, such as land use with respect to food production and habitat, water-quality impacts, and more, all in a Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) measurement. This model provides consistent, fair, scientific methods to document LCI and in particular carbon savings, and can accommodate improvements at the farm level and be useful in creating incentives for farmers to adopt better growing practices.

Here are the steps Gevo has taken as well as some in the advanced stages of adoption.

Reducing Carbon Intensity in Agriculture:

  • Gevo works with partner farmers who employ satellite imagery to look at their fields and use the overhead vantage point to target problem areas in fields where there may be insects, or drainage problems, or other factors that may have an adverse effect on the health of plants. The treatments can be targeted too, with sophisticated systems for fertilizer application, pesticide delivery, and water management. Farmers also have satellite guidance systems that allow their tractors and harvesters to optimize the land they farm.
  • Soil plays a key role in reducing carbon intensity because it stores carbon. Farmers work to preserve their soil, and build up this rich combination of minerals, microbes and organic matter, replenishing it with proven methods, refined and upgraded season after season. Gevo’s partner farmers use low-till or no-till methods, such as zone-tilling, which places seed rows between those of last year’s crops, leaving the existing root structure to hold the soil together as it decays. This additional organic matter represents amplified sequestered carbon. Increasing carbon in the soil offsets the impact of fossil fuels, but also increases feed and food production capabilities for the growing global population.
  • As rainwater flows in spring, it can rob the topsoil from corn fields, and can take valuable nutrients with it. Many farmers employ drain tiles to control drainage, and water control systems can be added to let them preserve water for later in the season, when soil moisture on its own can’t keep up with crop water demand.
  • Improved high-potency microbial soil amendments—or soil “probiotics”—can be used to stimulate enhanced crop vigor, increased nutrient uptake, enhanced photosynthesis, and the substantial expansion of crop roots. The augmented microbial populations associated with these larger root systems result in elevated levels of complex carbohydrates being exuded from them.
  • Gevo’s process of creating advanced bio-based renewable fuels from corn yields a high-protein animal feed, which many farmers surrounding its facilities purchase to feed the livestock they keep on their farms. This feed reduces the starch intake for the livestock, resulting in leaner, healthier animals who produce less gas, such as burps and flatulence, as a result of their diet. While those cow burps—enteric fermentation in animals—may seem small, those emissions account for 28 percent of the agriculture emissions overall in the U.S., according the EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, 1990-2006 (2008). Reducing this methane output is still another GHG emission reduction.
  • Farmers who keep livestock as a complement to growing corn also have a source of organic, inexpensive fertilizer in the form of manure. By employing this manure, farmers keep the nutrients from the corn on their farms, without needing to buy or truck in synthetic fertilizers.

Reducing Carbon Intensity in the Production Process:

  • The manure from livestock also can be placed in digesters that use natural yeasts to break down the manure, releasing methane which can then be captured and used for energy as renewable natural gas—called biogas. Gevo is in advanced stages to install these digesters at area farms and use the biogas to offset even more of the energy use at the plant, making the most of this renewable resource.
  • Gevo uses wind turbines to power its plant, to eliminate the need for electricity generated on the grid using fossil fuels.
  • Gevo makes fuels that are fungible and can use the existing transport, storage, and delivery infrastructure, including pipelines. This carbon-neutral transport minimizes the carbon intensity of building new infrastructure.

The Solution

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Gevo takes decarbonization seriously, and has made decisions at every turn to reduce or eliminate the carbon impact from the process of using agricultural feedstocks to create advanced bio-based renewable fuel.

Consumers place value on sustainability, and it will only grow as the threat of global warming and climate change increase. To them, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a priority and will become even more important as the impact of climate change grows and affects quality of life around the world and the economic factors feel the strain.

How do we encourage the pursuit of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased sustainability throughout the economy? The reductions must be measured, verified, certified, and valued. The best way to value sustainability is to document it and verify it, so its effect is irrefutable.

Measuring Gevo’s sustainability impact per gallon of advanced, bio-based renewable liquid transportation fuel through the Argonne GREET model is the most reliable and useful method to measure the factors needed. Using a blockchain smart contract such as that offered by Verity Tracking over its distributed ledger technology platform ensures that the impact is recorded, and the record is immutable.

By certifying these results, the carbon reduction is made real and the sustainability has value. And we see great potential to encourage sustainable practices.

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