Sustainability Across the Whole Business System Matters

In a world where facts and benefits are often overshadowed by misunderstandings and incorrect information, it’s often beneficial to restate some of our basics. First and foremost, Gevo is built around sustainability. We look for ways to add to our circular sustainable economy model—to make it bigger and more far-reaching—in everything we do. Our entire business is removing carbon from the atmosphere, because we believe that climate change is the largest threat to the world’s ability to sustain life. We use sustainably grown corn to draw carbon from the air and sequester carbon in the soil of farm fields.

We plan to help farmers improve their soil health and encourage regenerative farming practices. The corn they grow has protein in it, which we use to create a high-value animal feed, which increases the amount of meaningful nutrition for people. Corn oil is also separated out, to be sold into the food supply.

Gevo would then take the leftover part of the corn, the starch, and put it through our proprietary process powered by renewable energy sources. The result is energy-dense liquids that store renewable energy. Because these liquids can take the form of renewable premium gasoline and sustainable aviation fuel, this renewable energy can be used by our customers immediately. These fuels are expected to add net-zero carbon to the atmosphere over the whole life of the product.

Gevo’s circular sustainable economy is designed to scale up. After all, we’re tackling a huge challenge: Slowing the emissions of greenhouse gases to reduce global warming and decrease the effects of climate change.

THINKING BIG

To stem the flow of greenhouse gases, we have gone directly to the source: Agriculture (12% of global emissions) and transportation (17% of global emissions) are two systems that are enormous in scale and contribute to carbon in the atmosphere. Also, neither system is going anywhere and each could benefit from substantial changes. Corn grown in vast fields draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using energy from the sun and photosynthesis. Through the use of soil amendments and regenerative agriculture techniques, farmers could increase the amount of carbon sequestered in their soil. They could also use low-till and no-till farming methods that reduce the amount of soil disturbed, and employ cover crops to reduce soil emissions. Part of the circular sustainable economy is harnessing economic forces while improving quality of life for people, so we plan to pay premium prices for corn grown using sustainable methods.

At our Net-Zero Projects, we are designing the production processes so that the starch from the corn will be turned into energydense liquids using our proprietary processes, enhanced by using renewable energy sources, including wind turbines, which are expected to provide a percentage of our electricity. Our Net-Zero 1 facility plans to also incorporate biogas from cow manure placed in digesters to capture the methane, along with renewable natural gas from process residues. The water produced by our process will then be captured through our own water-treatment facility. Combined heat and power systems are expected to amplify the efficiency, providing the heat that our processes require and the remaining electricity that we need.

SOLVING LAND-USE ISSUES TOGETHER

The world population is expected to continue to grow at more than one percent each year. Therefore, land use is a topic of growing importance, as useful tracts seem to be in ever shorter supply. When sustainability is actively considered in the decision process, the way we use our land promotes more efficient use of resources.

1. Food and Fuels Lead the Way

There was a time when corn could either feed animals or be turned into fuel. That’s outdated thinking: Today, we use the parts of every kernel of corn the best way we can figure out. Our process to make liquid hydrocarbons only uses the starch—leftovers from our process that produces high-value nutritional products. Make no mistake, we believe the highest value of corn is its protein content, and the protein we derive directly from corn is augmented by the addition of protein from the yeast of our fermentation process. Making fuels from corn wouldn’t be economically feasible if the protein wasn’t valuable for the food chain. The economical thing to do is sell the protein and use the carbohydrates for something that addresses other problems—such as low-carbon feedstocks for transportation fuels. We project animal nutrition products will be our highest volume product by weight from Net-Zero 1. For every gallon of liquid hydrocarbons we make, we expect to produce approximately eight pounds of high-value nutritional products. Moreover, the high-value nutritional products that we plan to produce may enable better feed optimization for livestock, which could help reduce methane emissions from digestive gases due to enteric fermentation and help supply a growing demand for high quality ingredients in aquaculture and pet food markets.³ Feed optimization may also help reduce emissions, runoff, and odor from manure as well.

The key to the whole equation is the regenerative techniques that capture carbon. We’re willing to pay farmers a premium for corn grown that validates sustainability claims, but we also will survey the farms to make sure they’re doing what they claim to do. The carbon reduction has to be real and accounted for, and our partner farmers will be participants in the creation and realization of carbon value and sustainability benefits. We will pay farms to use and document these methods and if that helps farmers make more money, that’s terrific for everyone. Vibrant rural economies fit into our philosophy, because they attract more people with good ideas to rural areas.

That’s optimizing, not compromising—the best of both worlds. The Argonne GREET model awards better carbon scores to this kind of action because it reduces the negative impacts while simultaneously improving the positive ones. Translating this idea to all land use will produce better outcomes from an environmental perspective, but also will have a positive impact across society. Reduced pollution, better buffers between residential areas and transportation arteries, and other factors can improve quality of life.

2. It Comes Down to Water Quality

The Argonne GREET model pays particular at tention to water, another finite resource that can have an impact on sustainability. Water is central to Gevo’s processes, from the farm to our production facilities. We’ve learned about water management from our partner farmers, who have shared their experiences as they have learned to incorporate regenerative agriculture techniques. As rainwater flows in spring, farmers find flooding can make early season fieldwork challenging. Erosion can rob the topsoil from farm fields, and can take valuable nutrients with it, which are thought to be a factor in algal blooms and dead zones both downstream and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Farmers incorporate the use of drain tiles and water-control systems to regulate water levels and preserve water for later in the season, when soil moisture on its own can’t keep up with crop water demand.

Water is an important factor in Gevo’s process, and large amounts of water are used in the production of energy-dense liquids. At Gevo’s planned Net-Zero 1 facility, proven technology such as an anaerobic-digestion water treatment plant is expected to generate enough biogas to run the plant and supply a combined heat and power unit. The water from anaerobic digestion plant is also expected to also be a source of clean water, primarily recycled for safe use in our production processes.

A HOLISTIC APPROACH

At Gevo, we foster relationships with farmers who want to grow corn sustainably so we can source our primary feedstock responsibly. We encourage farmers to apply for third-party certification of their sustainable agricultural practices. We share our knowledge of sustainable farming practices with farmers, and listen to what they are doing and learn from them.

QUALITY OF LIFE

Growing and selling sustainably grown corn to Gevo allows farmers to participate in realizing the value of the carbon captured in their land and keep their farms thriving. This strengthens farms and rural communities while rewarding farmers for helping Gevo in the fight against climate change.

We actively share our story to raise awareness about our holistic systems approach and commitment to transparency. We hope to inspire other companies to adopt best practices for sustainability, increase their transparency and join our crusade against climate change.