Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coskata's New 50,000 gpy Demo BTE Plant

Coskata's novel biomass waste to ethanol demo plant is finally opening. Coskata will use plasma gasification to convert waste biomass to syngas. Syngas will then be fermented to ethanol, using micro-organisms.
Coskata first takes the garbage and turns it into a synthetic vapor courtesy of a Westinghouse plasma generator. Once the syngas is produced, it is fed to microbes that convert it to liquid fuels. The microbes live in large colonies that collect on membranes. Part of the company's intellectual property revolves around coming up with a way to let the microbes live as colonies and form slimes. Coskata has largely been concentrating its efforts on a few microbe species.

In the end, the fuel emits 96 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gas and the company only uses half of the water in the manufacturing process. Although Coskata currently builds its own plants, in the long run it has talked about licensing the process, leaving the massive scaling-up job to the people who are already in the fuel business. Make fuel or license – it's a big debate in the biofuels industry. If anything, the cost of building ethanol plants has recently declined because many early companies are trying to sell mothballed plants. Valero, the big gas distributor, recently bought seven plants. _Greentechmedia
Coskata was once famous for promising $1 per gallon ethanol from biomass waste. It will take some remarkable innovation and scaling for the company to ever meet that goal -- particularly at the rate the US dollar is shrinking in value.

Nevertheless, by proving its concept at larger scales, Coskata has demonstrated the ability to do more than simply make promises. The US political class could learn a great deal from that example.

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