Butamax and Gevo Need to Resolve Issues

Yet another press release came out this week regarding the Butamax/Gevo legal battle over isobutanol technology patent infringement and frankly, we are sick of hearing about it.

This spat started over 16 months and dozens of press releases ago. There is no question that patents are important, but the fact is that both of these companies are holding up critical technology by arguing about it.

butamaxThe two have been filing dueling lawsuits over patents since January of 2011 and the trial date for the first lawsuit is not scheduled now until April 2013.

Granted, business is business, but if these two companies are truly interested in furthering the energy independence of this country by taking advanced biofuels to the next level, they would get together and collaborate to commercialize this fuel. Until then, hold the press releases unless there is a technical breakthrough or big news that will advance biofuels.  That would be interesting.

Butamax Granted Patent for Iso-Butanol

butamax Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, has been granted patent number 8,129,162 for production of iso-butanol from biological resources.

This latest patent was issued from a series of applications covering modified KARI enzymes that optimize production of biobutanol by Butamax’s proprietary microorganisms. These microorganisms are engineered with the isobutanol biosynthetic pathway invented by Butamax that includes five enzymatic steps that convert sugar to isobutanol. The KARI enzyme performs the second step of the pathway which is fundamental to achieving high biobutanol yield. This latest invention is essential to best cost of manufacture position.

Since 2003, the Butamax team has pioneered new technology innovations in order to offer the most cost-effective production of biobutanol for the transportation fuels market. The company will continue its commitment to innovation in the areas of biocatalyst, engineering design and end-use applications to deliver maximum value to licensees.

“With these new KARI enzymes, we have achieved a significant improvement in performance, which is necessary for low-cost commercial production of biobutanol,” said Paul Beckwith, Butamax CEO. “We are pleased that our research team continues to be recognized for their innovation in biobutanol technology. Their work has led to the only cost-effective retrofit option that enables existing ethanol manufacturers to produce drop-in biofuels.”

Butamax and Gevo Continue Battle

The battle between Butamax™ and Gevo over isobutanol technology continues.

Last week, Gevo received a landmark patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for its GIFT(R) separation unit, a central part of the company’s fermentation technology for the production of isobutanol. The patent, “Recovery of Higher Alcohols From Dilute Aqueous Solutions,” addresses the separation technology used to produce propanols, butanols, pentanols, and hexanols, and also address how ethanol plants can be retrofitted to produce higher alcohols.

At the same time, Gevo also filed a lawsuit against Butamax™ Advanced Biofuels and DuPont charging that those companies infringe the newly issued patent. Gevo contends that Butamax and DuPont “perform the methods described” in the patent without Gevo’s authorization and should pay unspecified damages after a jury trial.

butamaxToday Butamax™ officials called the lawsuit allegations “unfounded.”

“Let us state emphatically, Butamax does not infringe the generic product separation technology claims in Gevo’s recent patent, which is already subject to a validity challenge by a Brazilian inventor,” declared Paul Beckwith, Butamax™ CEO. “While it does not surprise us that questions are being raised as to the validity of Gevo’s latest patent and whether Gevo provided sufficient disclosure in their patent application, Butamax does not use this technology.” Butamax has filed a motion to dismiss Gevo’s previous case against Butamax, and also will pursue early resolution of this latest suit.

Butamax officials claim that because vacuum flash fermentation technology was found to require high energy and water consumption to meet commercial productivity, Butamax developed fundamentally different product recovery systems. “The Butamax™ approach combines energy integration, reduced environmental impact and attractive production metrics. Butamax™ technology is covered by the 7,993,889 patent which is the subject of the Butamax™ lawsuit against Gevo for their unlawful infringement. This patent has significant priority over all of Gevo’s patent filings.”

The battle between the two companies goes back over a year ago to when Butamax was first awarded its patent in December 2010 and filed suit for infringement against Gevo in January 2011.

Gevo & Mustang Engineering to Produce BioJet Fuel

Gevo has signed an engineering and consulting agreement with Mustang Engineering LP (Mustang) to convert Gevo’s renewable isobutanol to biojet fuel. The first step will be to focus on the downstream processing of isobutanol to kerosene (jet fuel) and from there to test the fuel in jet engines as well as in commercial planes.

“Our work with Mustang is another important step in the development of our biojet fuel business and Mustang is an ideal partner to advance our efforts in this important market,” said Dr. Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo.”Their refining and chemicals industries engineering and project management expertise will help us bring an integrated, turnkey solution to the refining industry.”

Gevo has also disclosed that its “fit for purpose” testing at the Air Force Research Laboratory continues and they anticipate releasing a final report in June. Once this “fit to purpose” testing has been completed successfully Gevo will begin jet engine testing with various engine manufacturers.

“The advent of the jet fuel carbon tax on international flights landing in the European Union is motivating the airline industry and fuel suppliers to seek cost-effective, renewable alternatives to petroleum jet fuel,” said Scott Baker, executive vice president of Mustang’s Process Plants and Industrial business unit. “Mustang is excited about this opportunity to further support Gevo in the development of the next generation of alternative fuels. The processing steps required to make this bio-jet fuel lend themselves well to integration into refineries and petrochemical facilities.”