Tuesday, May 27, 2008

GM & Coskata

Coskata held a media day over the weekend to update the press and public about its ongoing efforts to produce cellulosic ethanol using a gasification followed by fermentation process. The event released some interesting results, indicating that although Coskata has yet to delve into the realm of reengineering their clostridia species to produce different types of fuel besides ethanol, they have been effective in their screening methods in producing larger amounts of ethanol from their bacteria. Their graphic, which is shown below, indicates that Coskata has improved their system a great deal in the past few months and managed to produce moderate amounts of ethanol from their system.

The development allows Coskata and GM to move forward in their goals to get a pilot plant up and running in Pennsylvania by the start of next year and a 50million gallon per year ethanol plant running by 2011. Coskata believes that by using multiple gasifiers, they will be able to process between 1,500 and 3,000 tons of biomass per day. Their business plan also estimates that by using and reinvesting these profits, Coskata will be able to expand to establish 20 biorefineries per year by 2015, which would allow for the widescale production of ethanol from cellulosic wastes and allow up to 35% of gasoline fuel demand to be offset by ethanol.

This is all good news but highly hypothetical, of course. Although I'm sure they are aware of the difficulties, Coskata mentions the goal of engineering their bacteria to produce bio-butanol, a fuel that would have an energy density much closer to that of gasoline. However, butanol is highly toxic to bacteria, even at relatively low levels, so it remains to be seen whether this idea will pan out or not.

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