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    Record warm summers cause extreme ice melt in Greenland: an international team of scientists, led by Dr Edward Hanna at the University of Sheffield, has found that recent warm summers have caused the most extreme Greenland ice melting in 50 years. The new research provides further evidence of a key impact of global warming and helps scientists place recent satellite observations of Greenland´s shrinking ice mass in a longer-term climatic context. Findings are published in the 15 January 2008 issue of Journal of Climate. University of Sheffield - January 15, 2007.

    Japan's Tsukishima Kikai Co. and Marubeni Corp. have together clinched an order from Oenon Holdings Inc. for a plant that will make bioethanol from rice. The Oenon group will invest around 4.4 billion yen (US$40.17 million) in the project, half of which will be covered by a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The plant will initially produce bioethanol from imported rice, with plans to use Hokkaido-grown rice in the future. It will produce 5 million liters per year starting in 2009, increasing output to 15m liters in 2011. The facility will be able to produce as much as 50,000 liters of bioethanol from 125 tons of rice each day. Trading Markets - January 11, 2007.

    PetroSun, Inc. announced today that its subsidiary, PetroSun BioFuels Refining, has entered into a JV to construct and operate a biodiesel refinery near Coolidge, Arizona. The feedstock for the refinery will be algal oil produced by PetroSun BioFuels at algae farms to be located in Arizona. The refinery will have a capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol. MarketWire - January 10, 2007.

    BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc, which develops and operates carbohydrate-based transportation fuel production facilities, has secured capital liquidity for corporate overhead and continued project development in the value of US$15 million with Quercus, an environmentally focused trust. BlueFire Ethanol Fuels - January 09, 2007.

    Some $170 billion in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained the new U.S. Energy Bill, says BIO, the global Biotechnology Industry Organization. According to Brent Erickson, BIO's executive vice president "Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years. We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years." Chemical & Engineering News - January 07, 2007.

    Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, has completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper. Part of the plant is contracted under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation and part of it produces over 200GWH of output qualifying for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which is equivalent to around 90MW of wind generation. Scottish & Southern Energy - January 2, 2007.

    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The bioeconomy at work: Johnson Controls introduces lightweight bio-composite headliner that improves fuel economy

Johnson Controls announces that it has unveiled a new bio-composite headliner that is lightweight and doesn't cost more than traditional headliners made from petroleum-based thermoplastics. The Ecobond headliner is in the final stages of development and is comprised of 50 percent biomaterials by mass. The green product fully meets customer requirements for strength, performance and acoustics. The headliner proves that renewable, biobased products can be competitive with and more efficient than oil based products. Its low weight improves vehicles' fuel economy.

Johnson Controls is showcasing the Ecobond headliner at the company's 2008 North American International Auto Show exhibit in room D2-15 of Detroit's Cobo Center.
The Ecobond headliner is made from natural fibers instead of glass, making the final product a lightweight, bio-based product, which can help increase fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions, and is easier to recycle at the end of the vehicle's useful life. - Byron Foster, North American interiors business director of Johnson Controls
The production process for the Ecobond headliner relies on soy-based adhesives, a soy-based urethane core foam, and natural fibers - reducing the need for non-renewable resources. The headliner is made via the use of an existing technology that Johnson Controls established for its Polybond process. Soy-based polyols are blended with petroleum polyols to create a foam core.

Natural materials - including hemp, flax and kenaf - replace the fiberglass that is traditionally used in headliner production. Finally, a soy-based urethane is used to bond materials and create a semi-rigid product. The Ecobond headliner satisfies customers' design requirements for stiffness, toughness and acoustics. It also is lighter than standard thermoplastic headliners. Using the new Ecobond approach is not expected to add costs to the headliner production process:
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By utilizing soy and other abundant and renewable plant-based materials, Johnson Controls is working to fulfill its sustainability goals, with initiatives that benefit its customers, the general public and future generations. Other earth-friendly products from Johnson Controls include EcoCore natural-fiber door panels, as well as soy-based seating pads, which will be featured on numerous 2008 model-year vehicles.

The new headliner joins the long list of bio-based products that are finding applications in the automotive sector. To name just a few: durable bioplastic fuel lines that can handle aggressive biodiesel (earlier post), almost-entirely-oil-free biopolymer car tires, car seat foams made from soybeans, bamboo-fibre reinforced bioplastic interior parts for car cabines, high-strength heat-resistant bioplastics similar to polypropylene for demanding car parts, and so on. Even such a key component as a methane storage tank for CNG cars doesn't escape the bioeconomy: researchers recently developed a highly efficient one from corn cobs (previous post).

Biopolymers and bioplastics made from sugarcane and maize are also used in Toyota's futuristic i-Unit; the renewable plastics are reinforced with plant fibers from the African kenaf plant, held together by lignin, a natural polymer found in wood.

Several projects are even underway to build entire 'bio-cars' that are almost fully biodegradable and that can be 'grown', so to speak: one such project was launched recently in Canada, whereas in the US a conglomerate of research organisations is working on a similar 'AgriCar', which will be made out of bio-based products for 90%. Bioplastics, biopolymers, biocomposites, biolubricants, biofuel-cells, and biofuels are coming together in the cars of the future. Or even of the present: researchers at the University of Warwick recently presented their first environmentally-friendly racing car that contains a large number of bio-components: tyres made from potatoes, a cabin from bio-composites and brake pads from cashew nut shells (more here).

Recently, researchers found that the most important bulk chemicals used to make car components and thousands of other products, can be obtained from biomass. Interestingly, they showed that in several cases it might be more efficient to use land to grow crops for such green chemicals than to keep it for biofuels. The production of such bio-products represent an opportunity to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in a major way, they found (previous post).

Photo: blooming kenaf plantation in the US 'Cotton Belt'. The crop has been grown for decades for the different types of fibers found in its stalks. It is currently undergoing a revival because of growing interest into bio-based, renewable products. Kenaf fibers replace glass fibers in Johnson Control's new headliner.


Johnson Controls: Johnson Controls Unveils 'Earth-Friendly' Automotive Headliner - Comprised of 50 Percent Plant-Based Material - at Detroit Auto Show - January 15, 2008.

Biopact: Researchers find bio-based bulk chemicals could save up to 1 billion tonnes of CO2 - December 17, 2007

Article continues

European ethanol association eBIO wants single tariff to protect EU producers

The European Bioethanol Fuels Association (eBIO) would like to see a 'coherent' European import policy in 2008 to close what it calls 'existing loopholes' and thus to pave the way for a well protected domestic industry. That is what Robert Vierhout, Secretary-General of eBIO, said in his organisation's first market commentary over at Ethanol Statistics. Instead of calling for an abandonment of Europe's protectionist measures, Vierhout calls for the introduction of a single tariff, which would be imposed on poor countries that are currently not subjected to the existing, steep duty. Wealthy, lavishly subsidised and inefficient European biofuel producers who push up food prices would thus be favored over unsubsidised, far more efficient and competitive producers in poor developing countries that could actually use some money and jobs.

Biopact thinks eBIO's position is highly problematic. Compared with European ethanol (from grains), the same fuel produced in the South (from sugarcane) is much more energy efficient, reduces GHGs far more substantially (graph, click to enlarge), requires considerably less land to produce a given amount of fuel, is largely sustainable (earlier post) and is far more competitive. In short, there is no rational argument in favor of the protection of European biofuels over these better fuels from the South. Consumers in the EU, developing country farmers, the environment and the climate would benefit from free trade in biofuels. Even without tariffs to protect rich European farmers and biofuel producers, there are enough opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy for all of them to benefit. What is more, even though they cannot compete today, oil prices are likely to reach levels that would make even European producers profitable without subsidies and import duties on foreign biofuels.

In 2007 the EU will have imported roughly 800 million litres of ethanol for the fuel stream from Brazil only, which equals more than one third of total EU-production. According to Mr. Vierhout, “the number shows that Europe is already today the continent, which is very open to biofuel imports if not the most open one in the world”.

He mentions that the EU allows duty free ethanol access from the least developed countries (LDC), countries belonging to the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states (ACP) and states falling under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) and that this proves there's no need for an abandonment of tariffs.
A total suppression of import duties is thus not only unnecessary, but would even harm the development of those regions as well as the European agricultural and industrial sector. Replacing all our fuel ethanol needs by imports would undermine the security of supply goal as well as sustainability objectives. Unrestrained expansion from production in Third countries could after all result in unwanted environmental effects. eBIO therefore would like to see a coherent European import policy in 2008. - Robert Vierhout, Secretary-General of eBIO
eBIO's logic is questionable. Its use of the fact that the EU allows poor countries with no existing ethanol capacity to enter the market unhindered as proof of its commitment to free and efficient trade, is an empty gesture. The truth is that the producers who really matter today, Europe's real competitors - such as Brazil - feel the full weight of the world's heaviest biofuel tariff: ethanol with an alcohol content of 80 percent is subject to a tariff of €19.20 per 100 litres. This level is higher than the more often criticized $0.54/gallon tariff imposed by the U.S.

Ethanol, primarily from Brazil, is thus seriously disadvantaged although it is vastly superior from an environmental and efficiency perspective since it gives lower indirect carbon dioxide emissions in production and requires much less land to generate a given amount of fuel.

What is more, Vierhout actually calls for:
the introduction of a single tariff line for all ethanol imported for fuel use.
Depending on the level of such a general tariff, this could be a major step backwards. If it implies a lowered tariff on ethanol from Brazil and other producers that matter, it could be legitimized as a very temporary measure. Temporary, because when APC countries, who have a large technical biofuel potential and who used to escape the duty, become large scale exporters, they would be facing the new single tariff - which is completely unacceptable from a social, environmental, historical and economic perspective. Now that African countries understand that they have a unique opportunity to escape poverty by tapping into their comparative advantages to make efficient fuels, we should allow them to do so, instead of denying them yet another chance to develop. By subsidizing EU agriculture and by dumping food on their markets, we have already been denying millions of African farmers the opportunity to make a living and have pushed entire countries into poverty. A repeat of this unfair and shameful situation would simply be immoral.

Numerous social, environmental, development and energy think tanks have therefor called for the complete abandonment of all EU and US tariffs and trade barriers on biofuels: from the IEA and the World Bank, to the IMF, the IISD, the OECD and the FAO - all have warned that these measures deny poorer countries market access, limit the availability of the most efficient biofuels, and could have detrimental effects on the environment. Just yesterday, the OECD repeated that the tariffs are 'wasteful' and 'distorting'. And according to the IMF, these protectionist measures are to blame for increased food prices, not biofuels per se - the fund called for their abolishment.

In any case, sooner or later, all biofuel duties will have to go, especially when Brazil succeeds in reclassifying ethanol from its current status of an agricultural commodity into that of a fuel commodity (earlier post), or when it wins its recently initiated WTO case against the US tariff (more here), which would set a precedent that would force the EU to drop its import duties.

eBIO further forgets to mention another important fact: the enormous subsidies its sector and European farmers receive from the EU each year. Calling these subsidies 'lavish' would be an understatement. European farmers receive up to €40 billion in subsidies annually, and according to the Global Subsidies Initiative, subsidies dedicated solely to biofuels amounted to a whopping €3.7 billion ($5.2 billion) in 2006 alone (previous post). Without these subsidies, not many European biofuel producers would survive. Brazilian ethanol on the contrary is unsubsidized and competes very well with gasoline.

Finally, Vierhout talks about the need for social and environmental sustainability criteria, without mentioning the fact that such rules - if too stringent - could constitute a non-tariff barrier to trade - that is, yet another veiled measure to protect the world's wealthiest farmers against competition from their more efficient collegues in developing countries. The call for such criteria is also based on a lack of historical insight into the key drivers of modernity (previous post):
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In his outlook for the European fuel ethanol market in 2008, eBIO's chief further discusses the most pressing issues that can be found in other countries too: a need for better legislation, the development of fair sustainability criteria, and an improved grip on feedstock supplies.


To start with, legislation plays an important role in the development of the EU bioethanol fuel market. 2008 awaits the industry with two major pieces of legislation: Firstly, the Commission is to publish its proposal on a Renewable Energies Directive that will replace the existing Biofuels Directive on January 23. Key element is the (likely) introduction of a binding biofuels target of 10% by energy content by 2020. Such a decision would mark a strong signal to bioethanol producers, car manufactures and road fuel distributors to prepare for a partly bio-fueled transport sector in the near future.

Secondly, the Fuel Quality Directive is under scrutiny by the European Parliament and the Council. This Directive sets technical standards for transport fuels and needs to be amended in order to allow for higher biofuel blends. The EU decisionmaking bodies Council of Ministers and European Parliament have expressed the will to agree on a common text before mid 2008. However, this could proof difficult as the responsible Parliamentary Committee has proposed a complex and far reaching system on sustainability for road transport fuels. It seems that sustainability is so popular that we might have 2 sets of criteria in 2 different Directives.


After all, sustainability is also linked to the introduction of a binding 10% biofuels target. The requirement of sustainable production of biomass for biofuels will be enforced by a certification scheme. The up-coming Renewable Energies Directive will define the criteria, which will most likely include land use change, preservation of biodiversity and thresholds on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings to be achieved. Europe’s ethanol industry fully supports this move provided sustainability criteria will apply to all biomass production regardless its origine and end-use.

However, one needs to bear in mind that European farmers already today comply with the most rigorous standards on sustainable farming globally. eBIO is confident that this will be acknowledged by applying cross-compliance rules to verify the fulfillment of the land use change and biodiversity criteria. When it comes to the GHG saving calculation tool we will keep a sharp eye on whether it will be workable and fair. Furthermore, eBIO will underline strongly the contribution home-grown biofuels can deliver in raising energy independence and security. Biofuels should not be just a tool to deliver GHG savings.

Feedstock availability
The year 2007 was marked by high grain prices caused by strong increased demand in Asia, very poor weather conditions in many grain exporting countries and a strong increase in speculation with soft commodities. These higher prices also triggered an emotional debate on the impact of biofuel product and food availability and prices. Ironically, the first that fell victim of these high grain prices was the biofuel industry itself as it squeezed profitability margins in the bioethanol sector substantially. As a reaction on this price development the European Union decided to abolish for at least one year the set aside obligation, which until the early Nineties subsidized non-production. The expected extra yield of certainly more than 10 mio tonnes will have a positive effect on the overheated cereals market in 2008 and is going to ease the situation of many European ethanol producers. Furthermore, eBIO expects that the promotion of bioethanol will give a new incentive to European farmers to adapt their production to the new market realities. Increased yields, rationalized production processes and a market-based agricultural business will secure food and fuel supply for the decades to come.


Ethanol Statistics: eBIO market commentary: An ethanol outlook for 2008 - January 14, 2007.

Biopact: IISD report challenges EU biofuel subsidies, calls for end to tariff - October 04, 2007

Biopact: IMF chief economist: biofuels could help cut farm subsidies, protectionism main cause of high food prices - December 06, 2007

Biopact: OECD calls biofuel tariffs "wasteful" and "destorting"; calls for open markets - January 14, 2008

Biopact: Paper warns against subsidies for inefficient biofuels in the North, calls for liberalisation of market - major boost to idea of 'Biopact' - September 11, 2007

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Article continues

GM and Coskata claim cellulosic ethanol has arrived: gasification-fermentation process yields biofuel for under $1 per gallon

General Motors announced a partnership with Coskata Inc., both claiming that affordable cellulosic ethanol production has arrived today. Coskata's innovative gasification-biofermentation process efficiently makes the biofuel from practically any source of biomass for under a dollar per gallon. If true, the breakthrough would at once change the perspective on many of the constraints lodged against current biofuel options, including environmental, transportation and land use concerns. It would end the artificial food versus fuel debate (at least on a conceptual level), and open up whole new era of highly efficient biofuels with low to no environmental impacts. Biofuels can then really begin take on their major role as one of the leading instruments in the fight against climate change and energy insecurity.

Coskata’s process is feedstock flexible, and enables the use of cost-effective, locally abundant materials to achieve the lowest ethanol production cost targets in the industry: cellulosic ethanol for less than $1 per gallon (less than 20 eurocent/liter), about half of today’s cost of producing gasoline. This is the magical barrier for next-generation biofuels.

Using patented microorganisms and transformative bioreactor designs, Coskata ethanol is produced via a unique three-step conversion process that turns virtually any carbon-based feedstock, including biomass, municipal solid waste, bagasse and other agricultural waste into ethanol, making production a possibility in almost any geography and allowing for the use of vast non-food biomass resources. Coskata’s process technology is ethanol-specific and enzyme independent, requiring no additional chemicals or pre-treatments.

The process is based the following steps:
  1. gasification: cracking the carbon-hydrogen bonds in the biomass feedstock via thermochemical transformation - plasma-gasification - of biomass into syngas
  2. fermentation: instead of using catalysts to turn the syngas into fuels, Coskata's process relies on fermentation by bacteria (biofermentation) using proprietary microorganisms; the organisms are extremely efficient, utilizing the entire energy value of available input material to produce ethanol. This is a significant advantage over other approaches that only use a fraction of this energy due to their inability to utilize all portions of biomass input material and/or result in non-ethanol byproducts hurting efficiencies. Some ethanol conversion processes use a gasification front-end and chemical catalysis for conversion, producing a mix of alcohols from methanol to pentanol and beyond, resulting in considerable separations and/or recycling costs as well as decreased yield. Ethanol conversion using chemical catalysts requires extremely pure syngas streams, as impurities readily degrade the catalysts. Not only are these catalysts expensive, but the high purity requirements of the syngas stream results in greater capital intensity. Additionally, chemical catalysis approaches require syngas compression in preparation for the high-pressure alcohol synthesis operation. Chemical catalysis is also inefficient with regard to energy and carbon dioxide. It requires a specific ratio of CO:H2 to make ethanol. These ratios are not found in nature, and require an energy consuming "water shift" reaction to make ethanol. Coskata's biofermentation step avoids these higher-cost complexities: (1) during biofermentation, Coskata's naturally occurring microorganisms - some of the oldest biological mechanisms in existence - use the chemical energy of syngas (CO and/or H2) to exclusively produce ethanol; (2) Coskata microorganisms have demonstrated a level of tolerance to typical syngas impurities that poison a chemical conversion approach. Together, Coskata's proprietary microorganisms and bioreactor designs lead to the highest conversion rates of feedstock to ethanol in the industry, as well as greater resistance to phage infections and bacterial contaminants.
  3. separation: after the bacterial fermentation to ethanol, the ethanol must be separated out of the solution mixture and converted into a fuel-grade ethanol at 99+% purity. 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%. This 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.
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. Coskata’s process uses less than a gallon of water to make a gallon of ethanol compared with three gallons or more for other processes:
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Our technology and proprietary process have been validated by some of the world’s most renowned research labs, universities and energy companies. Coskata is poised to revolutionize the ethanol industry with the backing of GM and our partners. Together, we can make ethanol a viable transportation fuel with production costs of under $1 per gallon. - Bill Roe, CEO of Coskata
One of the criticisms of cellulosic ethanol is that its development is supposedly several years away. Coskata CEO and President Bill Roe says the next generation ethanol is here today.
We will have our first commercial-scale plant making 50 to 100 million gallons of ethanol running in 2011, and that includes the two years it will take to build the plant. Success in delivering on our business plan means that we could account for a significant portion of the biomass ethanol mandated in the new [U.S.] Renewable Fuels Standard within 10 years. - Bill Roe
Coskata was initially formed with funding from Advanced Technology Ventures (ATV), GreatPoint Ventures and Khosla Ventures:
As a nation, we’ve been dependent on oil for so long, we continue to think we will be dependent on oil to meet our future energy needs. Scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs like Coskata are here to prove it doesn’t have to be this way. With the development of an economically-viable ethanol solution, Coskata has the propensity to change the types of fuel consumers find at the pump – providing fuel derived from widely-available national resources, rather than foreign imports. - Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures
GM’s partnership with Coskata to commercialize its unique process for turning biomass into ethanol is signals GM’s interest in making ethanol more available by promoting ethanol production technology and infrastructure.

Coskata, based in Warrenville, IL, can use its technology practically anywhere in the world that a carbon-based feedstock is available. For GM, this could lead to joint efforts in markets such as China, where growing energy demand and a new energy research center could jumpstart a significant effort into ethanol made from biomass. More immediately, GM will receive the first ethanol from Coskata’s pilot plant in the fourth quarter of 2008. The fuel will be used in testing vehicles at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds:

In the U.S., GM has more than 2.5 million flex-fuel models on the road and is committed to making half its production flex-fuel capable by 2012. GM sells 11 E85-capable models this year and will increase that to more than 15 models for the 2009 model year.

The next logical step was making the fuel more readily available. GM has worked in partnerships with businesses, universities and non-governmental organizations over the last two years to grow the U.S. infrastructure for E85, helping to open 300 fueling stations in 15 states.

The timing of the GM-Coskata partnership coincides with President Bush’s signing of the Energy Independence and Security Act last month, which calls for a dramatic increase in biofuels – from 7.5 billion gallons in 2012 to 36 billion gallons in 2022. Corn- and other grain-based ethanol are expected to account for up to 15 billion gallons of that new standard with 21 billion gallons coming from cellulosic and biomass sources.

The partnership includes an undisclosed equity stake for GM, joint research and development into emissions technology and investigation into making ethanol from GM facilities’ waste and non-recyclable vehicle parts.

The Coskata partnership also builds on GM’s activities in automotive fuels development and testing that include research and development of unleaded fuels in conjunction with the development of the catalytic converter, and early formulations of ethanol.
We believe ethanol used as a fuel, not just as a gasoline additive, is the best near-term alternative to the surging global demand for oil because ethanol is renewable and it significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to gasoline. Best of all, it is available today. - Beth Lowery, GM vice president, Environment, Energy and Safety Policy
The U.S. is the largest market using fuels blended with ethanol; however, its use as a fuel source is gaining global popularity as a more environmentally responsible option to petroleum-based fuels. GM has developed market-specific engines and vehicles that allow consumers to benefit from the use of earth-friendly ethanol fuels produced and available in their country.

Brazil is the best example of the market potential for alternative fuels. Since 1975, Brazil has been using ethanol made from sugar cane to create self-sufficiency in motor vehicle fuels. GM has been a leader in flexible-fuel powertrains in the Brazilian market. These are vehicles capable of operating on any blend of gasoline and ethanol, up to 100 percent ethanol.

The Saab 9-5 BioPower is another example of GM applying its ethanol learnings globally. During the development of BioPower, Swedish engineers teamed with their GM colleagues in Brazil to transfer knowledge of flex fuels. As a result, Saab now leads the European premium car segment in offering the 9-5 BioPower model, which accounts for 70 percent of all 9-5 sales.

GM: GM Extends Biofuels Leadership With Coskata Partnership - January 13, 2008.

Coskata: Coskata, Inc. Introduces Next Generation Ethanol – Technology to Produce Ethanol for Less Than a Dollar per Gallon - January 13, 2008

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