Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Cool Planet Energy Systems for Real? 4,000 Gal/Acre Bio-Gasoline Yield?

Cool Planet Energy Systems is a cellulose-to-gasoline advanced biofuels maker, which is backed by Google, BP, GE, Conoco Phillips, and NRG Energy. The company now claims to be able to produce 4,000 gallons of gasoline per acre, using its technology.
Cool Planet Energy Systems Home

CoolPlanet BioFuels, a start-up developing technology to convert low-grade biomass into high-grade fuels including gasoline, and carbon that can be sequestered (earlier post), claims it has achieved a conversion yield of 4,000 gallons gasoline/acre biomass in pilot testing using giant miscanthus, an advanced bioenergy crop.

On an energy basis, that yield is about 12 times greater than current corn ethanol production levels, the company noted.

These test results are based on nearly optimal crop growth conditions and demonstrate what is possible in a good growing season. Under more routine growing conditions, we estimate yields of about 3,000 gallons/acre should be achievable throughout the Midwest by selecting the proper energy crop for local conditions.

—Mike Cheiky, Cool Planet’s founder and CEO
The giant miscanthus was developed at the University of Mississippi and provided from a high yield plot by Repreve Renewables. Other advanced bio-energy crops, such as sorghum and switch grass, can provide similar annual yields using this new process. _GCC
The giant miscanthus can grow over 10 feet in height in a good growing season. It is likely that the company boosted the CO2 levels in the plants' growing environment as well. The company did not provide information on profitability for the complete process from field to fuel tank.
CoolPlanet Energy Systems is developing a revolutionary thermal/mechanical processor which directly inputs raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residue, algae, etc. and produces multiple distinct gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional fuel components.

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

CoolPlanet Energy Systems plans to package its proprietary biomass fractionator together with an "open architecture" chemical processing section in standard modular shipping containers which can each produce up to 2 million gallons of fuel per year. These modular fuel processors can be equipped with CoolPlanet Energy Systems' catalytic conversion processes and/or your own selection of dryers, separators, catalytic processes, etc. _CoolPlanet
The company features "transportable plants" for conversion of biomasss to biofuels, on its site. These are most likely catalytic pyrolysis plants, which can be trucked to convenient sites near harvest zones, for large batch local and regional processing. Year round producers of biomass -- such as municipal waste facilities -- would likely either lease such a plant or invest in their own appropriately scaled plant using similar technology.

The company certainly has a large number of heavy-duty industrial financial backers. Apparently most of the backers are looking for a relatively low cost, "environmentally acceptable" fuel additive or partial substitute which can be blended into their main fuel product. In other words, they may be banking on future government mandates regarding carbon content in fuels. That gamble may come crashing down should science ever adopt a more objective attitude toward the dozens of significant drivers of global climate -- some of which are likely still to be discovered.

If any enterprise does develop an economical-in-its-own-right biomass to advanced fuels process which can be easily scaled and mass-produced for local and regional siting, it will need to select the optimal biomass source for the locality. Different sources of biomass are likely to be optimal for different locales. That will range from giant king grass, to duckweed, to miscanthus, to kelp, to micro-algae, to municipal waste, depending upon climate and pre-existing infrastructure.

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Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Will this reduce the stree that biofuels place on the food supply by taking up valuable land?

5:07 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

As long as we are talking about crops grown on high quality soil, there is always a tradeoff which the farmer must make: human food vs livestock food vs fuels feedstock vs etc etc.

The farmer is trying to maximise his income so as to be able to buy a better tractor, plant more land, or send his kids to college etc., so he must make the most rational choice for himself.

When energy crops are grown in marginal soils, saline soils, or in wastewater, brackish water, or saltwater, there is no such conflict.

Most people are unaware how much of potential cropland in the US goes unused every year (most), so as to avoid over-production and oversupply of foodstuffs and feeds, with the resulting ruinous crash in prices. In Russia, unused farmland is reverting to forest at a very rapid rate. (due to demographic collapse)

There is a similar economic phenomenon which helps hold oil & gas production down in oil producing nations.

Overproduction is a real killer, and has ruined far more oil businesses than the mythical peak oil ever could -- unless you look at "political peak oil" caused by government action. Now that is very real, and a real killer as well.

5:38 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

Another thing:

Most US cropland is devoted to growing animal feed at this time, rather than to growing food that humans eat directly. Much of that animal feed is sold overseas, to feed China's pigs for example.

Imagine how much human food the US could grow if all its currently used cropland was devoted to growing food for humans? Given the freedom, most humans prefer to eat a significant amount of meat, which is reflected in croplant planting patterns.

The food vs fuels controversy is so incredibly one-dimensional and simplistic in the way it has been presented in the media (Pimentel etc) that it is understandable that most uninformed readers are confused.

5:55 PM  

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