The idea of renewable jet fuel is taking off and in Minnesota, it's starting with a pilot project in Luverne.
After shutting down in March 2020 in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gevo's Luverne plant is again making isobutanol and next year will be converting into a hydrocarbon facility to make sustainable aviation fuel. Corn-based jet fuel is a focus of Gevo, a Colorado-based renewable fuels company.
"We will be proving and improving the process as we're running the plant in Luverne," Phil Cherry, the Gevo plant manager at Luverne, which is no longer making ethanol.
The Luverne site will be used to test potential operations for what Gevo is calling its Net-Zero 1 production facility that is expected to begin production in 2024 at Lake Preston, South Dakota, also focused on jet fuel made from corn.
"All the major airlines are looking to lower their carbon footprint," Cherry said. "Gevo is being a leader to supply that fuel to that industry."
According to Gevo, the U.S. and the European Union have set goals that would support almost 4 billion gallons of annual sustainable aviation fuel production in 2030, and more than 45 billion gallons by 2050.
A sustainable aviation fuel tax credit was included in President Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda. One goal of the Biden administration is to reduce aviation emissions by 20% and increase in the production of sustainable aviation fuels to at least 3 billion gallons per year by 2030.
"We appreciate the president's support and the understanding of the importance of renewable fuels," Cherry said.
Gevo, a subsidiary Agri-Energy LLC, also is looking to reduce it's own carbon footprint, using wind energy in Luverne, which also is part of the plan in for Lake Preston.
"The goal is to have a negative carbon footprint," Cherry said.
The plant at Luverne in southwest Minnesota began hiring again in August and is back up to 30 employees, many of which worked before the shutdown.
"It's nice to have that knowledge base," Cherry said.
Paul Bloom, chief carbon and innovation officer of Gevo, in a news release touted the support of the city of Luverne and the state of Minnesota in supporting the project.
“We’re excited to bring more high-quality jobs to the area and to continue to be a part of the Luverne community.”
The Luverne hydrocarbon installation is estimated to begin in the third quarter of 2022 with demonstration production expected before the end of the year.
Cherry said the Luverne plant plans to use about 800,000 bushels of corn next year.
Gevo announced the concept of Net Zero Projects in early 2021 with plans to build on 240 acres of land near Lake Preston, about 100 miles northwest of Luverne in eastern South Dakota. It has hired Kiewit Energy Group Inc. to lead the front end engineering design at Lake Preston.
GEVO also has announced it will collaborate with ag processing giant ADM and energy company Chevron on the production and distribution of sustainable aviation fuel.
In September, Gevo announced that Gevo and Chevron would invest in facilities to turn corn into aviation fuel, with Gevo using its position in the jet fuel marketplace "to place sustainable aviation fuel with airline customers,” Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber said in a news release.
Gruber said that with the partnership with ADM, Gevo's potential contracts have grown to over 1 billions gallons.
“By working with ADM, who already has committed to reducing their carbon footprint, we have the opportunity to accelerate scale. The technology to convert low carbon ethanol and isobutanol into SAF by Gevo is well developed and ready for world scale-commercialization," Gruber said in an Oct. 25 news release.
“The potential conversion of 900 million gallons of ethanol – more than half of our production capacity — to serve growing demand for sustainable aviation fuel would represent a major step in the continued evolution of our Carbohydrate Solutions business to focus increasingly on new, high-growth opportunities,” ADM Chairman and CEO Juan Luciano said in an Oct. 25 news release.
Another partner of Gevo on the aviation front is Axens North America Inc. Gevo says Axens brings technologies with over 60 related patents and proprietary equipment required to convert ethanol into jet fuel.