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Coskata caught our attention back in January 2008 with the announcement that GM would take an equity stake in the cellulosic ethanol producer in an effort to bring the biofuel to market at a cost of just $1 a gallon. Since then, things haven't gone quite as smoothly as Coskata executives might have hoped and deadlines have been missed, but the company is hoping that today's unveiling of a semi-commercial flex ethanol facility will show things are back on track.

Coskata says that its new plant, located in Madison, Pennsylvania (finally!), proves that the make-ethanol-from-almost-anything process, which uses proprietary microorganisms and patented bioreactors, can be successfully scaled up from promising results in the lab. Using plasma torches that are based on technology that was developed by GM and Westinghouse in the early eighties, the Coskata process heats biomass materials to over 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, converting it into a gas that the microorganisms then use to produce ethanol. The Madison plant, which cost a reported $25 million, "will serve as a showcase for the world's first commercially-viable flex ethanol process," the company said in a statement.

The headline numbers, which we've heard before, are that Coskata can make ethanol that "reduce(s) greenhouse gasses by as much as 96% over conventional gasoline, while using less than half the water that it takes to get a gallon of gasoline" and "produce(s) non grain-based ethanol that is as much as 7 times as energy positive as the fossil fuel used in the process." GM remains involved with the program, and will use the ethanol made in Madison to test flex-fuel vehicles back in Milford, Michigan.

Up next for Coskata: building a full-scale plant and licensing the technology to "project developers, project financiers and strategic partners."

[Source: Coskata]


Coskata Inc. Unveils Semi-Commercial Feedstock Flexible Ethanol Facility in Madison, PA

Facility represents successful scale-up of company's technology and showcase for the world's first commercially-viable flex ethanol process

Madison, PA – October 15, 2009 – Coskata Inc., a leading developer of next generation biofuels, today announced the successful start-up of their semi-commercial flex ethanol facility located in Madison, PA. The accomplishment represents the successful scale-up of the company's technology, and will serve as a showcase for the world's first commercially-viable flex ethanol process.

"We are proud that we have successfully scaled our technology to this significant level," said Bill Roe, president and CEO of Coskata. "This facility is demonstrating that our efficient, affordable and flexible conversion technology is ready for commercialization. The next step is to build full-scale facilities and begin licensing our technology to project developers, project financiers and strategic partners."

Unlike other technologies and facilities that may rely on one primary source of feedstock, Coskata's flex ethanol facility will be producing ethanol from numerous feedstocks, including wood biomass, agricultural waste, sustainable energy crops, and construction waste. This flexible approach at the Madison facility is enabled by Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter NRG, and their plasma gasification technology. The feedstock flexible nature of the Coskata approach also allows for true geographic flexibility, meaning facilities can be built anywhere a feedstock can be sourced or delivered.

Coskata's technology, as demonstrated through Project Lighthouse, will be able to reduce greenhouse gasses by as much as 96% over conventional gasoline, while using less than half the water that it takes to get a gallon of gasoline. In addition, the company's ability to produce non grain-based ethanol that is as much as 7 times as energy positive as the fossil fuel used in the process, addresses many concerns related to traditional processes, including energy efficiency and the use of grain.

"The integrated biorefinery – utilizing Westinghouse Plasma Gasification on the front end and Coskata's syngas-to-biofuels conversion process on the back end – serves as an excellent example of two leading companies working together to deliver a viable process to the biofuel market," said Mark Montemurro, President and CEO of Alter NRG. "We're excited to be delivering the feedstock flexibility to Coskata's efficient and affordable process."

The facility is a demonstration of "minimum scale engineering", an industry standard term which means it is the smallest size that will still allow the company to scale directly to 50 million and 100 million gallon Coskata facilities. Some of the ethanol that is being produced at the facility has been delivered to the General Motors Milford Proving Grounds for early testing, as well as to another major strategic partner.
"We invested in Coskata so that we could enable the rapid deployment of commercially viable and environmentally sustainable ethanol globally," said Bob Babik, GM Vehicle Emissions Director. "We're proud to say that we have already accepted some of Coskata's ethanol at our Milford facility."

Globally, General Motors has produced more than 5 million flex-fuel vehicles to date. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 3.5 million GM flex-fuel cars and trucks on the road. For the 2010 model year, 17 E85-capable flex-fuel vehicles from the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC brands.

GM is on track to make more than half of its vehicle production flex-fuel capable by 2012.

Coskata leverages proprietary microorganisms and efficient bioreactor designs in a unique three-step conversion process that can turn virtually any carbon-based feedstock into ethanol, from anywhere in the world. Coskata's biological fermentation technology is ethanol-specific and enzyme independent, contributing to high energy conversion rates and ethanol yields. Additionally, the process requires no additional chemicals or pre-treatments, serving to streamline operational costs. In fact, the company has one of the lowest production costs in the industry, allowing them to directly compete with gasoline without long-term government subsidies.

About Coskata
Coskata is a biology-based renewable energy company that is commercializing technology to produce biofuels from a wide variety of feedstocks. Using proprietary microorganisms and transformative bioreactor designs, the company will produce ethanol that can be cost competitive with gasoline unsubsidized almost anywhere in the world, from a wide variety of feedstocks. Coskata has compiled a strong IP portfolio of patents, trade secrets and know-how and assembled a first-class team for the development and commercialization of its compelling syngas-to-ethanol process technology. For more information, please visit www.coskata.com

About GM
General Motors Company, one of the world's largest automakers, traces its roots back to 1908. With its global headquarters in Detroit, GM employs 235,000 people in every major region of the world and does business in some 140 countries. GM and its strategic partners produce cars and trucks in 34 countries, General Motors Company acquired operations from General Motors Corporation on July 10, 2009, and references to prior periods in this and other press materials refer to operations of the old General Motors Corporation.

Alter NRG is pursuing alternative energy solutions to meet the growing demand for environmentally responsible energy in world markets. The Company's vision is to be a senior energy producer by becoming the world's leading supplier of plasma gasification technology and developing environmentally sustainable and economically viable gasification projects. The Company's objective is to further commercialize the Westinghouse Plasma technology, a wholly owned subsidiary, to provide renewable and clean energy solutions from a wide variety of feedstocks, and providing a wide variety of energy outputs – including hydrogen, liquid fuels like diesel, and ethanol, power, and syngas

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I hope this is as good as it sounds.

      • 5 Years Ago
      There are a number of ways you can identify "questionable" proposals related to cellulosic ethanol. The first is that they say they can produce ethanol at less than $1.00 per gallon. If you look at capital costs ($25M), energy costs (1,600 degrees), feedstock costs, labor, transportation, material handling, and storage, the math simply does not work. Anyone talking $1.00 per gallon ethanol may have a technology, but not a business plan.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is nice but major efforts to create ethanol from inedible sources are not the best use of finite manpower, time, and research dollars, whether public or private.

      In the first place, conventionally produced ethanol is cheap and can be scaled up drastically. A majority of farmland in the US is not cultivated, for example, meaning that massive expansion of ethanol production can take place without hurting food production. Also, tropical nations capable of growing sugarcane, nipa palm, etc. such as Haiti, Brazil, and others have huge potential and are desperate to access our markets.

      Second, inedible biomass can already, today, with no further research and waiting required, be turned into methanol fuel. That's ANY biomass, without exception. Fast growing weed plants such as kudzu and water hyacinths; enviro-faves such as bamboo; desertification fighters such as mesquite, and crop residues from cassava and corn ethanol farms are just the beginning of examples. Not to mention trash and even sewage.

      Neither ethanol nor methanol is likely to be able to topple petroleum alone; together they can be an unbeatable tag team if wise public policies are enacted. Especially a mandate that all new cars sold in America (not just made, sold, to include imports) be fully flex-fueled, able to run equally easily on any alcohol fuel (ethanol, methanol, propanol, butanol, etc) as on gasoline. The technology for this has existed for for over a decade; is refined, reliable, and with a minimal engineering footprint and near-zero tradeoffs; and costs only $130 per car for automakers to add. The mandate breaks through the chicken and egg dilemma and ends our suicidally stupid policy of allowing millions more cars each year to roll out of factories and ports that are unnecessarily locked in to being only able to use petroleum fuel.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Dan, thanks for your response. Far from being strange or exotic, methanol compatibility is in fact what the very first modern flex fuel vehicles (from Ford in 1986) had.

        Ethanol capability costs around $100; adding methanol adds around $30. It really is quite trivial.

        And a major asset of methanol is that it is a "force multiplier" for fuel farmland. An ethanol corn farmer in the US, or an ethanol cassava farmer in Africa, can use the inedible portions of the plant (leaves, stems, cobs etc) as biomass for methanol, thus increasing his per-acre alcohol fuel yield. And again, trash, waste, and sewage can also be made into methanol.

        Without a flex fuel standard that includes methanol, none of that would be as useful in getting us off oil.

        Finally, methanol is very cheap, cheaper not only on a per-volume basis than gasoline, but also reliably cheaper on a per unit of energy basis, without any subsidy. When gasoline was exceeding $3 a gallon and pushing to $4, methanol was selling unsubsidized for $0.80, or around $1.60 in energy-equivalent terms. Because it can be made from any biomass at all (not to mention natural gas and coal), it is very easy to scale up; there is no prospect of shortages or price spikes. This low price of fuel, and even more importantly, the SECURITY of knowing that no cartel can at any time spike that price, is even more important for smaller, less economically diversified countries, especially poorer ones.
        • 5 Years Ago
        While you're right that much could be done with existing technology, I don't think this is a waste of time and money at all. Like many, you seem to suffer from a bit of an America-centric view. Coskata is no doubt eyeing the global market with their technology, and there are many countries, including my own, that don't enjoy an overbundance of farmland, where that technology would be very welcome.

        And be fair, full flex-fuel capability (i.e. ability to burn any alcohol fuel and gasoline) is quite a bit more expensive than ethanol or E85 compatibility, for which even $130 is a bit optimistic, though not by much. I'm in favor of mandating E85 compatibility (and the EU is actually considering it), but mandating multi-flex-fuel capability isn't gonna fly, neither here nor in the US.