Trading Fossil Fuels for the Carbon Already in the Atmosphere

Biofuels provide energy by using carbon from plants, and reduce the need to use fossil fuels. There are several biofuel crops, including corn, beets, and sugarcane. Sustainable biofuels capitalize on the fact that plants draw their carbon from the atmosphere, where it lingers in the form of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. We know how to make biofuel from corn, since ethanol has been around for more than 100 years.

Gevo has focused on corn-based biofuel, making isobutanol from inedible corn at its plant in Luverne, Minnesota. Corn-biofuel advantages are numerous, chiefly because producers have had so much practice—ethanol is widely produced. Because corn agriculture has been studied and modified over the last century, yields have been dialed in to be highly productive. Gevo has used biotechnology for biofuels to develop the process to make isobutanol, using Gevo’s proprietary yeast.

Biofuel made from corn has reduced carbon intensity because the farmers are using advanced agriculture methods to grow it, including low-till or no-till techniques that help the farms capture more of the carbon. Because corn grows quickly and creates large biomass, the plants absorb large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere. Gevo is partnered with area farmers to improve their growing techniques, resulting in better yield, improved root generation, and better carbon sequestration in the soil.

Biofuels Research Goes Beyond Corn

Biofuels alternative feedstocks and conversion processes use lignocellulose as another source of the starches needed to produce biofuel, from feedstocks including bagasse (sugarcane waste), rice straw, and woodslash or forest waste. Many of these cellulosic biofuel feedstocks would otherwise add to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by being burned, as is the case with rice straw in India and woodslash as a result of wildfires.