Friday, April 15, 2011

Hot Biofuels Company - A Profile of Coskata, Inc

Based in Warrenville, Illinois, biofuels industry leader Coskata says that with its technology the company can produce ethanol from just about any organic material. Even better, Coskata says it is able to do so for less than per gallon. This claim, and generous backing from venture capitalists and the likes of General Motors, gave Coskata the number one ranking from Biofuels Digest in its list of the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy.

Unlike most of its ethanol-focused competitors, the Coskata approach is not based on improved cellulosic conversion to fermentable sugars. Rather, Coskata uses already available chemical technology for converting mixed agricultural and municipal waste into a synthesis gas, which consists mainly of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen.


Then second step is the biological one, relying on the microbial bioconversion of the synthesis gas to ethanol. Coskata claims it produces "99.7% pure ethanol" with its microbe and process, although of course, every other method can also produce 99.7% pure ethanol once the ethanol is refined and distilled. A distinct advantage of the Coskata technology is the use of non-food raw materials, avoiding the problem of diverting food crops to fuels or the crowding out of food crops with fuel crops.

Hot Biofuels Company - A Profile of Coskata, Inc

Coskata's process would produce ethanol from agricultural waste like corn stalks and wheat straw. Another advantage is that Coskata's method for producing ethanol avoids the "negative energy" comparisons that have been so glibly bandied about. Using already available waste means no additional energy cost for growing and harvesting the raw materials it will use as a feedstock, and therefore, Coskata calculates that its ethanol provides 7.7 times the energy required to produce it.

Whether or not this is strictly true, on paper Coskata's process looks far more efficient than corn-based ethanol production.

As for revenues, Coskata has nothing of significance on the horizon. The company's first pilot plant won't be running until the end of 2009 at the earliest, and it will only produce about 40,000 gallons per year. At per gallon, that is a pretty poor return on the approximately 0 million invested. But Coskata claims that the sky is the limit on its future potential, which is why all the money has flowed in from investors in the first place. The first commercial-scale plant producing 100 million gallons per year is scheduled for 2011, and if the company meets that milestone, the future for Coskata will be highly liquid-both with green fuel and greenbacks. 

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David Rozzell maintains a web site and blog dedicated to the latest developments and news in biofuels, biocatalysis, and industrial biotechnology. For informative, sometimes amusing, always opinionated analysis go to Contact him at

1 comment:

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