June 13, 2012

Gevo continues operation

ICIS news reported* this morning that Gevo will continue to optimize its bio-isobutanol operations in Luverne, Minnesota, as previously planned amid today's injunction decision by the US Federal District Court of Delaware to limit Gevo's commercial activities effective immediately.
The order specifies that Gevo "will not deliver, provide, distribute, ship, release or transfer any of its bio-based isobutanol produced in Luverne facility [that uses recombinant yeast microorganisms] to any third party except that it may sell its bio-based isobutanol to Sasol for chemical applications and the US Air Force for jet fuel testing applications."
The court order resulted from a lawsuit brought by Gevo's competitor Butamax Advanced Biofuels (a joint venture between DuPont and BP). The blog already got lost which one has what patent between these two over bio-isobutanol.
According to Gevo, it will "maintain its status quo" on the Luverne plant given that the company has already started the 18m gal/year bio-isobutanol facility last month, which is expected to produce 1m gal/month of bio-isobutanol by the end of 2012.
"As the judge has not made a decision for or against the preliminary injunction to date, it's understandable that she wants to make sure Gevo sticks to its current business plan. For Gevo, that means we continue to optimize Luverne operating parameters, continue engineering work and preparation for construction of Redfield and most importantly we sell our renewable isobutanol to Sasol and the U.S. Air Force." -- Brett Lund, EVP,  General Counsel for Gevo.
In my interview* with Gevo last month, the company said it expects the Luverne facility to reach full capacity run rates by the end of 2013. The company will start retrofitting another ethanol plant in Redfield, South Dakota, with capacity to produce 40m gal/year of bio-isobutanol.
Since most of the isobutanol product from the Luverne facility is expected to go to Sasol and sampling to the US Air Force, I guess this injunction will not impact Gevo's operation that much. But the company has to resolve this patent issue with Butamax as soon as possible in order to avoid another type of injunction that can cripple their plans for commercialization.
Other customers waiting in line for Gevo's product for chemical applications (that I know of) includes Lanxess, Toray, and Coca-Cola.
Recapping the blog's last post about Gevo and Butamax's patent battles since April:

UPDATE 6/14/2012
Butamax's corporate communications manager Pamela Schools sent the blog an email today wanting to add some comments to the ongoing lawsuits:
  • In April, Gevo has been granted patent 8,153, 415, and also filed a lawsuit against Butamax/DuPont stating Butamax has been using the related technology covered by this patent.
    • "Butamax does not infringe any valid claim of this patent."
  • On May 3, Butamax requested the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to re-examine Gevo's patent 8,101,808. The USPTO, however, denied Butamax its request to also re-examine Gevo's patent 8,017,376
    • "The request for reexamination of the '376 patent was granted. This patent is in reexamination and several claims were in fact rejected as anticipated by Butamax's own patent applications."
  • On May 15, Butamax said the USPTO has granted the company patent 8,178,328, which covers an engineered pathway for producing isobutanol from recombinant microorganisms at commercial scale.  It also includes extraction and distillation of the isobutanol, and steps for recovering distillers grain produced during isobutanol fermentation. Butamax added the '328 patent to its ongoing litigation against Gevo, which in return Gevo dismissed in a statement stating that it is virtually identical to the claims in Butamax's earlier issued 7,851,188 patent, which were rejected and declared unpatentable by the USPTO during reexamination.
    • "Certain claims of the '188 patent are under reexamination but not all the claims. Further, the US PTO only issued an Office Action for which Butamax has an opportunity to respond. This is the process of reexamination and the patent remains in full force and effect during reexamination." 
Speaking of lawsuits unrelated to the Gevo-Butamax saga, the blog also received recent news on this front from Neste Oil

The Finnish biofuel player filed a patent infringement suit against US-based Dynamic Fuels, Syntroleum and Tyson Foods. Dynamic Fuels, which produces animal fats-based diesel, is a joint venture between Syntroleum and Tyson Foods.
Neste Oil said one of its patents is believed to have been infringed by Dynamic Fuels in the production of renewable diesel at Dynamic Fuels' plant in Geismar, Louisiana.
This patent was issued by the USPTO on May 29, 2012, and expires in 2025. Neste is already producing its own fats and oils-based diesel at its sites in Singapore, the Netherlands and Finland under the company's technology called NExBTL renewable diesel.
Syntroleum released a statement that the Neste Oil patent no. 8,187,344 is "related to and shares the same inventors as a prior Neste patent 7,279,018." Claims to the '018 patent were said to have been rejected upon reexamination by the USPTO. Syntroleum claims it has not infringed any of Neste's patent rights.
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