Wired magazine has a feature story on Coskata Biofuels, a Chicago based alternative fuels company that has developed a revolutionary enzyme process for producing cellulosic ethanol. The process allows them to produce non corn based ethanol for less than a dollar a gallon. At this price point and with widespread distribution, it could jump start the E85 industry well ahead of schedule.
The process has proved promising enough to warrant a major funding partnership with General Motors to speed the solution to the marketplace. "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.
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.
From the Wired story...
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.
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.
Tobey said 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.