Biofuels International Article – Clean Cities: ‘Sooner Rather Than Later’

The CEO of Gevo Pat Gruber outlines why the adoption of advanced renewable fuels can put cities on track to decarbonisation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

A new generation of renewable resource-based low-carbon, drop-in hydrocarbon-based transportation fuels are primed to help solve many of the world’s carbon-footprint problems. Global warming caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and atmospheric carbon is a huge challenge for the world and it is going to take all solutions humankind can come up with to solve the problem.

The sooner the world gets started, the more manageable the problem will be down the road. And you know what? It can start at a local level.

City government sets GHG and pollution goals

Particulates from petroleum can be a terrible problem. Smog and pollutants from burning fuels simply are not good to breathe. Enacting a plan with a five- or 10- or 30-year time horizon may seem to make a bold, sweeping impact, but those long-term plans can also be rewritten or consigned to the dustbin after the next election, especially when so much of the plan is dependent on state and federal governments, and infrastructure that needs to be changed.

With the new generation of advanced renewable hydrocarbons, it is possible to lower GHG emissions, particulates, and other pollutants, leveraging what exists today – the same fleets, same gas stations, same pipelines, same pumps, and same tanks.

To gain widespread adoption, fuels have to be practical and offer no disruption or barriers to adoption.

Imagine lowering the footprint of a fleet of vehicles simply by changing the source of petrol. That’s the practicalitythat we are presenting. Switching from petrolbased fuels to our advanced bio-based renewable fuels delivers immediate reductions in carbon footprint with virtually no investment other than having to pay for the fuel and carbon reduction.

No new vehicles need to be purchased. All existing engines in existing fleets, even old ones, accommodate the change.

Net-zero carbon

The fuels we make can be net-zero carbon by choosing low carbon footprint raw materials and using renewable energy during production. We can capture renewable energy through photosynthesis, wind, biogas, solar, and hydrogen production. Think of a storage tank full of our product as being a giant battery – in it we can store renewable energy that can be used locally, or anywhere in the world.

After all, the infrastructure to ship our renewable energy, in the form of hydrocarbons, already exists. Anywhere our product is used, the reduction in carbon intensity is passed on to our customers.

Over time, people are going after the whole gallon of liquid transportation fuels, including renewable petrol, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel.

In looking for solutions, what is more practical? Retool? Or simply change fuels? In reality it will likely be both, depending on the needs of the city, and could change over time.

To solve the GHG problem associated with petrochemical based petrol, it will take all solutions. The problem really is that big.

Even with the advent of electric vehicles (EV) and hydrogen, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that GHG from petrol used in transportation in 2050 will still be at about the same level as today. This shocks me.

The EIA projections include assumptions of EV, and hydrogen being adopted, but it takes decades to change infrastructure. We think the option of doing something now, in existing vehicles, in existing infrastructure, is practical and can make a difference.

Seattle experiment

Gevo ran a pilot programme that illustrated the adoption of advanced bio-based renewable fuel. The city of Seattle set a mandate for vehicles to reduce GHG emissions by 8% each year, year over year, eventually reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Because fleet managers were looking to use the existing vehicles in their fleet, without making modifications or infrastructure changes, we offered our isobutanol-blended petrol to help meet the requirement.

This is a product that is commercially available. Because our isobutanol is blended with petrol to 16%, it carries with it the commensurate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Isobutane served to prove a point.

What is better? Replacing more of the gallon. We think our renewable isooctane, combined with a low carbon oxygenate like ethanol or isobutanol (but we like using the isobutanol as a building block to make hydrocarbons for petrol and jet fuel) makes sense.

We could replace 70% of a gallon with this approach with simple blending, even to make an E10 petrol. It would be possible to drive GHG emissions down, dramatically.

The Seattle pilot programme included six vehicles over a six-month period, but because of the initial success, the fleet managers expanded the scheme to 25 vehicles in the first month.

After the pilot’s success, Seattle selected Gevo to provide fuel on a multi-year contract.

The agreement will transition from isobutanol-blended petrol to a renewable-gasoline product with a 50% renewable fraction and uses Gevo’s isooctane as blendstock as well. This renewable petrol is expected to be commercially available prior to our planned expansion in 2023.

Gevo is already beginning to work with other municipalities on pilot programmes. We all want to “move the needle”, and to do that, we have to increase the low-carbon, renewable content of every gallon of fuel.

Simply blending Gevo isooctane into E10 or E15 increases the renewable content and lowers GHGs. That is a pretty simple way to drive down GHGs from each gallon of petrol. We want to get on with it.

Download a PDF of the article as it appears in Biofuels International magazine.