More good news on the alternative fuels front. I was listening to GM’s Bob Lutz talking to a reporter yesterday and he spoke very highly of the process of making ethanol from most any carbon rich waste. Most of us probably associate ethanol production with corn, you know, moonshine, and more recently, some companies have begun to make ethanol from many other cellulose sources like wood chips and switchgrass. The corn process is tried and true but not the most efficient method and it tends to make grocery prices go up as farmers concentrate on growing corn instead of other things and while the wood and grass sources help, it still may not produce fuel in the quantities needed for running our vehicles.
When I heard him talking about ethanol from carbon rich materials like tires, I was a little puzzled because I had always thought of those things as a source for biodiesel and thought maybe he misspoke in the interview, but no, he was talking about a whole new process I had not heard of and it sounds promising, because, if you paid attention in biology, you’ll know life on earth is carbon based, it’s that thing referred to by alternative fuel types as “biomass.”
Coskata is the company behind this process which takes 3 steps:
1. Incoming material converted to synthesis gas (gasification)
2. Fermentation of synthesis gas into ethanol (bio-fermentation)
3. Separation and recovery of ethanol (separations)
During gasification, carbon-based input materials are converted into syngas using well-established gasification technologies. After the chemical bonds are broken using gasification, Coskata’s proprietary microorganisms convert the resulting syngas into ethanol by consuming the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) in the gas stream. Once the gas-to-liquid conversion process has occurred, the resulting ethanol is recovered from the solution using “pervaporation technology.”
Coskata’s proprietary microorganisms eliminate the need for costly enzymatic pretreatments, and the bio-fermentation occurs at low pressures and temperatures, reducing operational costs. In addition, the Coskata process has the potential to yield over 100 gallons of ethanol per ton of dry carbonaceous input material, reducing both operational and capital costs. Coskata’s exclusively licensed separation technology dramatically improves the separations and recovery component of ethanol production, reducing the required energy by as much as 50%.
They’re working on a plant in Warrenville, Illinois where they will convert old tires into ethanol but tires are just the beginning, Coskata says there’s a billion tons of biomass available in the U.S. each year for conversion, each of those tons can yield 100 gallons of ethanol, … at less than $1 dollar per gallon!
This sounds very promising but as with all of these new technologies, we’ll have to wait and see if they can do what they say. I’m hoping this one is a winner.