A New Production Method May Make Ethanol Cheaper

Alternative fuels have been taking a beating in the media over the last few weeks. Recently, a major technology journal, Science, released 2 publications reporting that producing biofuels will actually lead to more greenhouse-gas emissions than petroleum based fuels. Many people are beginning to question the viability of Ethanol. However, a new production method from Coskata may be the answer.

Traditional Ethanol ProductionTraditional Ethanol Production Coskata claims it is possible to make Ethanol from any carbon rich source, which will include your old tires, for less than $1.00 per gallon. If that price is correct, that will put it at half the price of producing traditional gasoline, and well below any other biofuels to date.

The process is almost the same as the current crop-based systems. The only difference is that the microbes responsible for producing ethanol are not longer consuming the feedstock. Instead, they are now feasting on gases released from the feedstock.

Coskata Ethanol Production CycleCoskata Ethanol Production Cycle

The chosen feedstock is put into a chamber and heated to 1900F. At that temperature, the molecules binding the materials together break down and the result is synthesis gas or "Syngas." Next, the Syngas is moved to a tank for cooling and cleaning. No outside substances can be present. The next step is to move the cleaned Syngas to a tank where the enzymes can work. No oxygen is present as it is lethal to the Ethanol secreting organisms. They consume the Hydrogen and Carbon Monoxide released in the beginning steps and Ethanol is the byproduct. The final step has the Water/Ethanol mixture permeating through funnels coated with a polymer designed to extract water leaving pure Ethanol Gas. After cooling and condensing, it can be retrieved and used as needed.

Ethanol ExtractionEthanol ExtractionCoskata's system also gained the backing of General Motors. Last month they announced an investment and partnership with the company. The investment should help them in building their new facility which will be capable of producing 100 million gallons of Ethanol per year by 2011.

Hat Tip : Coskata , USA Today

George Delozier
Automotive Innovations