help create ethanol
A new Chicago-based energy company, partnered with General
Motors Corp. (GM) and powered by microorganism research licensed from
Oklahoma’s two largest universities, will produce an efficient type of
ethanol, planners said.
GM unveiled Coskata, Inc. during the North America International Auto
Show in Detroit, Michigan. The newly formed company plans to produce
40,000 gallons of ethanol and deliver it to GM for testing by year’s
Coskata, named after a wildlife preserve in New England, utilizes microorganisms
that were first isolated and identified by researchers at the University
of Oklahoma (OU) and Oklahoma State University (OSU).
“The connotation of that name is clean and green,” Coskata CEO William
Roe said during a conference call. “We like to think of our company in
the same way.”
The start-up’s founders licensed the work nearly two years ago. The bacteria,
called acetogens, normally produce acetic acid when devouring feedstocks
such as wood chips and agricultural waste.
An OU-OSU team found ways to modify the microbugs so they produce ethanol.
“There’s nothing particularly unique about the technology — it’s the
organisms,” OSU researcher Ray Huhnke pointed out. “I feel very confident
that they will take this to a commercial level.”
The Coskata method is different from ethanol production involving corn
and other food sources. It takes nonfood biomass - including switchgrass
or even old tires - and turns it into synthesis gas, then the bacteria
produce ethanol during the fermentation process.
Using nonfood sources means the ethanol probably could be produced anywhere.
“This process can be exported all around the world,” said Mary Beth Stanek,
GM’s director of environmental and energy policy. “We like the flexibility
of that, and the flexibility of input materials.”
Proponents of the method say it produces seven times as much energy as
it uses, unlike the nearly dead-even exchange with normal ethanol. Coskata
officials believe they can extract 100 gallons of ethanol per one dry
ton of feedstock.
Production costs reportedly would average only about $1 per gallon, compared
with $1.90 to $2 right now for each gallon of gasoline derived from oil.
“This is the cost structure that will be realized at the pump,” Roe predicted.
GM, which got on board with an investment, plans to use the first commercial
demonstration in its own vehicles.
Both partners hope they can reach a capacity for 100 million gallon facilities
within three years. A marketplace priority is getting more Flexfuel and
E-85 pumps, which serve engines using varying percentages of ethanol.
OU and OSU have been working about seven years on the gasification and
microorganism processes, Huhnke said.
The combined effort so far has produced only small amounts of actual
ethanol on the experimental level, but GM’s support and Coskata’s ambition
should rachet up the potential, the OSU professor noted.
“It’s very early, but we’re confident that production can be scaled up,”