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Story + Video + Gallery: Gevo breaks new ground in area

Kari Lucin/Daily Globe Officials including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Sen. Doug Magnus, Minnesota Rep. Joe Schomacker, Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber and David Frederickson, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture, break ground Tuesday for the isobutanol conversion process at Gevo Luverne. The dirt was brought in especially for the ceremony because the ground was too muddy.3 / 3

LUVERNE -- Government officials, Gevo personnel and biofuel enthusiasts ceremonially broke ground Tuesday for the Gevo ethanol facility's conversion to isobutanol production.

When the conversion process is complete in approximately one year, the facility formerly known as Agri-Energy will become the first commercial-scale isobutanol facility in the world. Until then, it will continue to produce ethanol.

"It's kind of exciting. As farmers, we couldn't take it any further on our own," said David Kolsrud, president of DAK Renewable Energy, which started the cooperative that eventually sold the Luverne facility to Gevo. "With the technology, it's a new beginning."

The plant has continued to produce ethanol, and remains an excellent place for local farmers to sell their corn, Kolsrud said, and the conversion process will mean the facility will stay productive for a long time.

David Frederickson, the Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of Minnesota, recalled the beginning of his experience with biofuels, when he was elected to the legislature in 1986 with the idea that 10 percent of every gallon of gasoline should be ethanol.

He got that idea from an old curmudgeonly farmer who told Frederickson flat-out that he didn't have the guts to do it.

Nevertheless, Frederickson and many other biofuel supporters did make it happen.

After Frederickson spoke, Patrick Gruber, the president and chief executive officer of Gevo, gave the commissioner a bottle of scotch.

"The distinctive difference between a bourbon and a good Scotch whisky is the flavor of isobutanol," Gruber explained. "So all of you have probably at least tasted isobutanol... it is a natural product that comes with the fermentation of ethanol."

Isobutanol is a building block for petrochemicals, and can be used to make rubber, plastic and jet fuel.

"These fermentation plants shouldn't be thought of as just ethanol plants," Gruber said. "These are the lowest cost fermentation processing plants in the whole world, from the very best, lowest cost feed stock in the world -- corn."

Gevo has already signed letters of intent for its next two isobutanol production facilities.

"We are literally taking the next step to the future of biofuels with the groundbreaking today," said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol.

"We've got to keep moving forward and looking at the next generation of fuels," said Minnesota State Sen. Doug Magnus, who spoke briefly at the ceremony.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar agreed, emphasizing America's need for innovation to help end its economic slump. She also noted the importance of decreasing reliance on fossil fuels and increasing focus on renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and biomass from logging.

"We have a lot of challenges right now, but I'm inspired by what I see today," Klobuchar said.

Twelve people, including Klobuchar, Magnus, Minnesota State Rep. Joe Schomacker and Frederickson participated in the groundbreaking ceremony.

Due to the recent damp weather, fresh dirt was brought in to be lifted in the golden shovels, so the groundbreaking wouldn't become a mudbreaking, Kolsrud said.