At Gevo, we believe farming is the key to a “carbon revolution,” where agriculture shifts from incidental to intentional in its fight against climate change. Farmers are already beginning to implement growing techniques on a large scale to capture vast quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide and put it in the ground via root systems. The captured carbon then endures in the soil through the use of low-till and no-till farming techniques. The Soil Science Society of America projects that agricultural lands in the U.S. have the capacity to sequester up to 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. This is equivalent to more than 9 percent of the annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. We work with farmers, sharing our knowledge and learning about sustainable or regenerative farming practices that benefit their business and the environment, and are expected to be quantified and counted through the systems we have under development.
Farmers have a deep understanding of the fields they work, and they know the soil is their key resource. That soil is made up of minerals and organic matter, and farmers must replenish it to keep producing year after year. Synthetic inputs are expensive—some farmers estimate costs at $80 per acre in some cases, plus labor, time, equipment, and fuel costs—and also could potentially have a deleterious effect on the environment.
Instead, the idea is for farmers to replenish the soil using the resources they have at hand, including manure from livestock, and root structures and stover in their fields from last year’s crop. This is the heart of regenerative agriculture.
Sustainable farming practices have the potential to harness the power of nature to build up the soil, enrich it with nitrogen and other key nutrients, reduce dependence on synthetic fertilizers, and improve yield. This type of farming can have the added benefit of capturing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the biomass and soil instead of releasing it back into the atmosphere.
Regenerative agriculture techniques include low-till, strip-till, and no-till. These techniques work to ensure the soil gets built up while also sequestering more carbon; leaving corn stalks on the field after harvest to keep nutrients on the land; growing cover crops to protect the soil from erosion and runoff; and more.
Advanced techniques, such as precision agriculture that uses satellite imagery and GPS positioning on farm equipment to position seed rows with precision, enable farmers to add fertilizer and pesticides only where needed. The farmers save money by having to apply fewer chemicals, and the yields increase, too. We believe farmers should participate in the added value created by such practices.
Sustainable, regenerative, and precision agriculture also add value to our products for end users who want to do the right thing by buying responsibly sourced renewable energy. We plan to incentivize farmers to use regenerative agriculture by creating a system that can pay them a premium for sustainably grown corn.
Tracking Sustainability with Blockchain Technology
Sustainability certification is not a marketing tool to sell products. It’s a set of metrics that can be scientifically calculated, documented, and verified by third parties to give consumers and the supply chain confidence that the products they’re buying are sustainable, and ethically and credibly sourced.
To demonstrate that our low-carbon, renewable fuels are responsibly sourced from farmers using regenerative agriculture techniques, we seek third-party certification of our feedstocks. We’re also working on the next stage, where we can take the extra step to provide full traceability of the sustainability attributes of our low-carbon fuels and chemicals by developing distributed ledger technology (DLT). DLT is built on a blockchain platform and employs smart contracts. We expect to use this technology throughout the entire value chain of our product, counting all carbon inputs and reductions, as well as other environmental factors based on the Argonne GREET model. DLT is expected to support comprehensive verification of performance, and would allow consumers and other stakeholders to confirm our sustainability claims by providing transparency into our supply chain.
Gevo and Blocksize Capital are exploring a partnership to develop a DLT-based system called Verity Tracking to take the first step to track the sustainability attributes of renewable transportation fuels, such as GHG emissions and water-protection practices, through the value chain. DLT-based technologies are expected to have numerous agriculture applications. It is anticipated that net-zero-emission renewable fuels made from agricultural feedstock are expected to use DLT to document and verify attributes and potentially could make the value of these improved practices accessible to larger markets. By using DLT to attach the key metrics for sustainability to gallons of fuel, it is expected to enable a level of sustainability assurance that has not yet been seen.
Sourcing Feedstock from Certified Sustainable Farms
Third-party independent certification of sustainably sourced feedstock is a key factor for credibility. We believe manufacturers making claims of sustainability or other environmental benefits should ultimately substantiate and certify performance across their entire supply chain and processes, and we are leading by example. We are working to increase the number of acres certified by the RSB and ISCC for more of the feedstock we use to produce our fuel, and we plan to expand the scope of use of these certifications in the future.
Several family farms near our facilities have been cultivating the same land for more than 50 years, often passing this land down through generations. Many have begun to understand that sustainable agricultural practices ensure the soil is healthy and the farm continues to offer a bright future. We strive to assist our farm partners in achieving internationally recognized third-party certification per the standards set by the RSB, helping us to encourage good environmental and social management practices on the farms we work with, and reducing risk for our supply chain partners and stakeholders.
RSB certification verifies that the farms have implemented practices that seek to reverse soil degradation and maintain soil health. We have carried our own RSB and ISCC PLUS certifications, which confirm that we only source feedstock from farmland that has been cultivated since at least 2008 and has not converted natural ecosystems to produce the feedstock we use to make our fuels. These certifications also confirm that we avoid raw materials from natural prairies recently converted into farmland. In addition, ISCC PLUS and RSB certifications allow Gevo to verify that less commonly addressed social issues in agriculture are taken into account, such as human and labor rights. Farms certified under these standards do not utilize forced or bonded labor, ensure healthy and safe practices, and pay fair wages to every worker. RSB’s requirements for stakeholder consultation ensure that any sustainability and compliance issues are picked up early in the process, that affected voices are heard confidentially, and that auditors do not just base their assessments on the evidence presented to them.
“We’ve implemented strip-tilling, leaving as much residue on the ground as we can, and still maintain yields,” said Shawn Feikema of Feikema Farms in Luverne, Minnesota. “The goal is to create more soil than we’re losing, because we lose a lot of soil through wind erosion and water erosion. There are practices that we’ve learned over time, things that we can do to make that happen. It’s not one thing: It’s the management of water tiles, the management of strip-tilling, the management of cover crops—all those things, in conjunction build better soil.”
Because Gevo will survey our partner farms, we know what these farmers do, and how it benefits them. We plan to work closely with farmers to help them develop the required environmental and social management plan (ESMP) detailing operational procedures for restricting land use change, enhancing soil resources, and protecting water resources, biodiversity, and air quality to obtain certification.