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Oil giant Total invests in butanol maker Gevo

Advanced biofuels company attracts investment from Total for a process to turn biomass into butanol, which can be converted into renewable gasoline and jet fuel.

Oil giant Total has invested in start-up Gevo, which has a process for making butanol--a biofuel that backers say offers advantages over ethanol.

Gevo said Tuesday that Total invested an undisclosed amount as part of a series D round of funding. Existing investors include Khosla Ventures, Virgin Green Fund, Burrill & Co., and Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund.

Much of the activity in biofuels in the past five years has been focused on ethanol, which is used mainly as an additive to gasoline. But there are a number of companies pursuing alternative biofuels, such as butanol.

Colorado-based Gevo has developed a process to turn biomass, such as sugarcane or agricultural byproducts, into butanol using a genetically engineered microbe.

Butanol can be shipped in existing fuel pipelines without corroding them and can run in gasoline engines at 85 percent concentration. A blend of 85 percent ethanol and gasoline requires flex-fuel cars that can run both fuels.

Gevo's business plan is to install its equipment at existing ethanol facilities to make butanol. The company also expects to convert the output of its process into plant-based replacements for petroleum-derived gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuels, according to the company.

Its first demonstration plant to retrofit an ethanol facility in St. Joseph, Mo., is expected to go online later this year. The company plans to be fully commercial in 2012.

Some oil and gas companies, including Shell, BP, and Chevron, are moving into biofuels as Total has done. Likewise, refiner Marathon Oil has invested in ethanol company Mascoma.