Friday, March 09, 2012

Cobalt Technologies' n-Butanol Project Advances on Two Fronts

Butanol is a 4 carbon alcohol that is widely used in industry as a solvent and food additive, and is increasingly being seen as a potentially useful fuel additive and gasoline substitute.

Cobalt Technologies is one of several small companies working hard to develop profitable new ways of producing butanol from biomass and other cheap, non-petroleum feedstocks. Cobalt recently announced two separate advances toward its goal of profitable renewable butanol production:
Cobalt Technologies, a developer of next-generation technology for the production of n-butanol, announced the successful demonstration of one of its advanced biocatalysts. Partnering with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Cobalt completed multiple fermentation campaigns in a 9,000 liter fermenter, exceeding the target yield and other performance metrics for a commercial-scale facility.

That announcement came one day after Cobalt successfully demonstrated its biomass pretreatment process in cooperation with ANDRITZ, a leading supplier of technologies, equipment and plants for the pulp and paper industry.

Our strain demonstration comes on the heels of the successful demonstration of our pretreatment technology, proving our ability to map performance at the smallest scales all the way through demo scale. Ultimately, we’re showing performance is achievable at commercial scale across our technology platform. This essentially eliminates the majority of scale-up risk associated with commercialization, which is vital for our customers and partners.
—Bob Mayer, CEO of Cobalt Technologies _GreenCarCongress
So by both demonstrating more efficient and economical production of sugars-from-biomass, and demonstrating commercial-scale multiple fermentations of n-butanol, Cobalt should be taken more seriously. Here is more from the company's website:
Cobalt has taken a re-engineering approach to the tradition fermentation process for making butanol. The primary driver for Cobalt’s technology is reducing the cost of feedstock and minimizing the capital cost for fermentation. Sugars derived from food products, such as corn and sugar cane, are prohibitively expensive for the production of chemicals and fuels. Therefore, Cobalt has focused on the use of low cost cellulosic biomass such as forestry wastes and biomass process extracts as raw materials for butanol production as a starting point. There are abundant sources of these materials available today to supply the n-butanol market globally, and to make significant headway supplying related chemical derivatives markets.

Several technological innovations combined with low cost feedstock have advanced the process to be economically advantaged to petroleum-derived butanol and derivatives, including:

Biomass Sugar Extraction
To convert the carbohydrates (cellulose and hemicellulose) in lignocellulosic biomass, Cobalt has developed a process that simultaneously extracts and converts the lignocellulosic materials into simple sugars. Cobalt’s approach integrates the extraction process with hydrolysis chemistry in a way that shortens residence time while maintaining mild conditions. Our approach enables the use of smaller vessels and less expensive metallurgy, thereby minimizing capital and operating costs....

Microbial Strain Development
Cobalt’s technology is based on a bacterial fermentation of lignocellulosic sugars into butanol. Cobalt has developed proprietary bacterial strain development technology for improving the fermentation performance of a variety of microbial strains. These strains are specifically selected for their ability to utilize all five of the sugars found in plant materials. This innovative technology makes it possible to process a range of lignocellulosic biomass in the production of butanol....

Fermentation Process
Cobalt’s fermentation process differs radically from the traditional batch processes used today to convert starch to alcohol fuel. Our technology poises our continuous fermentation process at peak production rates for extended periods of time using our innovative bioreactor technology. Continuous production increases the overall production time of the fermentation unit, reducing capital and operating costs....

Product Recovery
Historically, distillation has been used to purify butanol from petroleum and biological processes, an approach which is energy and capital intensive. Cobalt utilizes process and thermal integration to reduce costs. Cobalt’s distillation process for butanol recovery uses approximately half the energy and half the equipment services compared to conventional butanol distillation. _Cobalt
Cobalt claims that its biomass to butanol process should be able to eventually undercut the price of butanol from petroleum, for industrial use. If true, butanol sales to industry should provide Cobalt with the income to allow it to continue to perfect its system with the long term goal of competing on the huge transportation fuels market.



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