Monday, January 14, 2008

Inedible ethanol

Coskata PR Image

I've been watching the ethanol technology race for several years now, waiting to see which cellulosic ethanol process would win out and get first to market. It seems GM has backed this particular horse, which makes it a front runner.

Cellulosic ethanol -- ethanol made from the woody stalks of plant and plant debris, which would include Maine forest trees -- is the best bet for a liquid fuel technology in the near term. Liquid fuels that avoid climate emissions entirely, or that have a lower ratio of climate emissions per unit energy compared to fossil fuels, are important because they would allow us to weather an upcoming and necessary technological transition in vehicle design and energy use -- the transition to electric vehicles run on solar and wind and other renewable electricity, without giving up too soon on our massive current capital investment in liquid fuels. Most cars on the road today will run on 85% ethanol with little problem.

Eventually, we will need those long range electric vehicles, like the Tesla, to be price competitive with gasoline/ethanol vehicles, because the ecological costs of making all those liquid fuels from plants, particularly trees, may well be too high. And, unlike Europe which has already exported its biofuel market, causing an environmentalist backlash, in the US the costs of some if not most cellulosic ethanol production will be borne at home. A new jobs scheme for foresters and ecologists will be in figuring out how to manage the demand on US forests for ethanol and wood pellet production in the medium term.

GM, Coskata Partner in Breakthrough Ethanol Technology

Process Makes Ethanol from Renewables Including Trash and Old Tires

DETROIT, Jan. 13 – General Motors announced a partnership Sunday with Coskata Inc. to use the company’s breakthrough technology which affordably and efficiently makes ethanol from practically any renewable source, including garbage, old tires and plant waste.

Coskata, which was formally introduced as part of GM’s opening press conference at the North American International Auto Show, uses a proprietary process that leverages patented microorganisms and bioreactor designs to produce ethanol for less than $1 a gallon, about half of today’s cost of producing gasoline.

“We are very excited about what this breakthrough will mean to the viability of biofuels and, more importantly, to our ability to reduce dependence on petroleum,” GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said.
Coskata’s process addresses the issues most often raised about grain-based ethanol production.

According to Argonne National Laboratory, which analyzed Coskata’s process, for every unit of energy used, it generates up to 7.7 times that amount of energy, and it reduces CO2 emissions by up to 84 percent compared with a well-to-wheel analysis of gasoline.

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