Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gasoline from Corn Cobs for $1 a Gallon? GE Energy Wants In


GE Energy, a GE subsidiary, has jumped into the advanced biofuels race by throwing in $8 million with the startup CoolPlanetBiofuels. The startup claims to be able to produce a bio-gasoline from rough biomass for about $1 a gallon. Here is more from GreenCarCongress:
$8-million funding round for CoolPlanetBioFuels, a start-up company developing a technology that converts low-grade biomass into high-grade fuels, including gasoline, and carbon that can be sequestered. This venture capital investment was led by North Bridge Venture Partners, which had also led CoolPlanet’s financing round last year. Additional financial details were not disclosed. CoolPlanet’s research and development facilities are located in Camarillo, CA.

CoolPlanetBioFuels is developing modular thermal/mechanical processors which directly input raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residue, and algae and produces multiple distinct gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional fuel components.

In support of the biomass fractionator, the company is also developing a range of one-step catalytic conversion processes which mate with the fractionator’s output gas streams to produce products such as eBTX (high octane gasoline), synthetic diesel and proprietary ultra-high crop yield “super” fuels.

At the GoingGreen Silicon Valley 2010 conference in October, Mike Rocke, CoolPlanetBiofuels VP Business Development, said that the startup could produce carbon-neutral gasoline from biomass for less than $1.00/gallon US.

Biomass throughput time in the biomass fractionator is minutes, Rocke said earlier at a conference at Stanford. Two fractionators in a module can produce one million gallons of gasoline per year, with capex of $0.50/gallon to install—i.e., $0.10/gallon over a five year life. _GCC

The image above shows a comparison of product between conventional Shell 87 octane gasoline and the Cool Planet BioFuels drop-in product from biomass, by gas chromatograph.

Whether the information provided to investors is accurate or not, if the company is able to produce high quality drop-in bio-gasoline from biomass technology already developed, increasing efficiencies and yields, and decreasing costs, may make the product competitive within a matter of 5 or 10 years.

The problem with biomass is its low energy density, and its diffuse nature. It takes a lot of energy to densify biomass for transport, and to transport large amounts to a central processing facility such as CoolPlanetBioFuels'. It is clear that those energy costs were not figured into the amounts quoted to investors.

Thermochemical production of biofuels via pyrolysis and gasification have a natural head start on microbial fuels -- due to prior work done on other feedstocks. But if the thermochemical approach is to achieve a foothold -- and critical scale-up -- it cannot dally about while people such as Craig Venter are working feverishly to genetically engineer microbes to achieve the same thing at far lower energy cost.

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