As syngas fermentation leads to lower ethanol concentrations than corn fermentations, the energy and cost to separate the ethanol from water is proportionally higher. To reduce this differential, Coskata has exclusively licensed membrane separation technology to reduce the energy requirements by over 50%. The vapor permeation process is amenable to separating ethanol from biofermentation broth because of the very low solids content of the broth relative to other fermentation processes. Image Credit: Coskata
It’s Time To “Buck” Up And Implement Bacteria Biofuel Solution
There was a time one could buy fuel for ones car or truck for a “Buck” a gallon … and it is a past we can embrace right now … TODAY!
Well, at least General Motors seems to think so with its investment in Biofuel processing startup Coskata.
The key to the conversion approach Coskata has perfected uses bacteria to break down the broad array of organic waste (switch grasses, twigs, corn husks, leaves, landscape waste, and other non-food sources of organic material) and make Ethanol for a fuel mix or replacement.
After the carbon-hydrogen bonds in the feedstock are "cracked" using gasification and converted into syngas, bacterial fermentation (biofermentation) of the syngas into ethanol occurs using proprietary Coskata microorganisms. Image Credit: Coskata
The real kicker is that this process not only protects our current food paradigm built upon corn for feed and food, the process uses far less petroleum fuel (about 13% as opposed to 77% - or 17 times more efficient) and water while greatly increasing the productive output per bale of feedstock in order to create a gallon of this cleaner burning substance.
Design engineer Mike Sura adjusts settings on Coskata's 150L bioreactor to make ethanol. Image Credit: Tyler Mallory/General Motors
This excerpted from WIRED -
Startup Says It Can Make Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn
By Chuck Squatriglia - 01.24.08 1:00 PM
A biofuel startup in Illinois can make ethanol from just about anything organic for less than $1 per gallon, and it wouldn't interfere with food supplies, company officials said.
Coskata, which is backed by General Motors and other investors, uses bacteria to convert almost any organic material, from corn husks (but not the corn itself) to municipal trash, into ethanol.
"It's not five years away, it's not 10 years away. It's affordable, and it's now," said Wes Bolsen, the company's vice president of business development.
The discovery underscores the rapid innovation under way in the race to make cellulosic ethanol cheaply. With the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requiring an almost five-fold increase in ethanol production to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022, scientists are working quickly to reach that breakthrough.
Besides cutting production costs to fire sale prices, the process avoids some key drawbacks of making ethanol from corn, company officials said. It wouldn't impact the food supply, and its net energy balance is high because the technique works almost anywhere using almost anything with great efficiency. The end result will be E85 sold at the pump for about a dollar cheaper per gallon than gasoline, according to the company.
Coskata won't have a pilot plant running until this time next year, and it will produce just 40,000 gallons a year. Still, several experts said Coskata shows enough promise to leave them cautiously optimistic.
Coskata uses existing gasification technology to convert almost any organic material into synthesis gas, which is a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Rather than fermenting that gas or using thermo-chemical catalysts to produce ethanol, Coskata pumps it into a reactor containing bacteria that consume the gas and excrete ethanol. Richard Tobey, Coskata's vice president of engineering, says the process yields 99.7 percent pure ethanol.
Image Credit: Coskata
Gasification and bacterial conversion are common methods of producing ethanol, but biofuel experts said Coskata is the first to combine them. Doing so, they said, merges the feedstock flexibility of gasification with the relatively low cost of bacterial conversion.
Coskata's method generates more ethanol per ton of feedstock than corn-based ethanol and requires far less water, heat and pressure. Those cost savings allow it to turn, say, two bales of hay into five gallons of ethanol for less than $1 a gallon, the company said. Corn-based ethanol costs $1.40 a gallon to produce, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
May Wu, an environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, says Coskata's ethanol produces 84 percent less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel even after accounting for the energy needed to produce and transport the feedstock. It also generates 7.7 times more energy than is required to produce it. Corn ethanol typically generates 1.3 times more energy than is used producing it.
Making ethanol is one thing, but there's almost no infrastructure in place for distributing it. But the company's method solves that problem because ethanol could be made locally from whatever feedstock is available, Tobey said.
"You're not bound by location," he said. "If you're in Orange County, you can use municipal waste. If you're in the Pacific Northwest, you can use wood waste. Florida has sugar. The Midwest has corn. Each region has been blessed with the ability to grow its own biomass."
"Even if you produce it county by county, you still need an infrastructure," he said. "People aren't going to go to some remote location for fuel."
The Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University - Alternative Engergy
(click image to launch video)
The biofuel developed for ASU's "Tubes in the Desert" project avoids many of the downsides presented by biofuels such as corn, cellulose or other crops/plants. Because it uses a microscopic bacteria as the fuel source, it doesn't compete with food crops and could yield a much larger amount of fuel per acre. The bacteria are grown in transparent tubes, hence the name. /// ASU researchers are also exploring the possibilities of microbial fuel cells -- tiny microbes that generate energy by feeding on waste. /// Guest interviews include: Neal Woodbury, Ph.D., the Biodesign Institute; Wim Vermaas, Professor, ASU School of Life Sciences. /// Learn More: Visit http://www.azpbs.org/asuspotlight