Sunday, January 13, 2008

GM Gasification

Announcements coming out of the Detroit Auto-show today are not only focused on innovation as far as the car's engine is concerned. General Motors, who along with Ford are emerging at the forefront to push for more ethanol use in the United States, has announced the purchase of part of cellulosic ethanol technology pioneer Coskata Inc. This company, based in Naperville Illinois, is pioneering a gasification technology where cellulosic biomass (encompassing nearly any kind of plant material) is turned into carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gas. This gas stream is then fed into a reactor where special microorganisms are able to grow on the gas and produce ethanol. According to Coskata, the patented microorganisms have already been made and initial ethanol production will begin in 2011. Independent research done at Argonne National Laboratory has revealed that this process of gasification using Coskata's bacteria is able to produce ethanol using only 1 gallon of water per gallon of ethanol produced (compared to the 3 to 1 water to ethanol ratio currently realized). Furthermore, current ethanol production results in 1.6 times the energy in ethanol compared to the energy input necessary while this new technology yields 7.7 times the energy. These kinds of gains in energy and water responsibility are great news for Coskata, GM, and all the other researchers striving to bring some form of this technology into being a reality. And it doesn't hurt that this new technology allows for ethanol production to cost approximately $1 per gallon!
GM is quoted as saying that the impetus for investing in companies such as Coskata came after the most recent Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) passed by Congress that let the automakers know that ethanol is here to stay. Hopefully this "trickle-down effect" will continue past companies such as GM and Ford, who are finally beginning to take the lead in establishing new automobile technology, and finally begin to affect the gas station and the consumer. Both GM and Ford have lamented this week that until more gas stations are equipped to handle E85, the concept cars that could provide such a breakthrough towards efficient ethanol use will not come into being. Currently only 1,400 out of 170,000 gas pumps in the United States are equipped to handle E85.

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