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GM and Coskata Partner In Syngas-to-Ethanol Technology

The Coskata process can combine a variety of gasification technologies with Coskata proprietary microorganisms and bioreactors. Click to enlarge.

Emphasizing on one hand the importance of ethanol as a shorter-term solution to reducing oil dependence and emissions, and on the other to coming up with alternatives to corn-based ethanol, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced a partnership with Coskata Inc., a second-generation ethanol startup, during his opening press conference at the North American International Auto Show.

Coskata uses a proprietary process that leverages patented microorganisms and bioreactor designs to produce ethanol from practically any carbon-based feedstock, including garbage, old tires and plant waste, for less than $1 a gallon—about half of today’s cost of producing gasoline. 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.

Coskata uses a three-step syngas-to-ethanol process:

  1. Gasification. Carbon-based feedstock is converted into syngas using well-established gasification technologies.

  2. Fermentation. Coskata’s proprietary microorganisms convert the resulting syngas into ethanol by consuming the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) in the gas stream.

  3. Separation. Pervaporation technology separates and recovers the ethanol.

Coskata’s process technology is ethanol-specific and enzyme independent, requiring no additional chemicals or pre-treatments.

Coskata’s process uses less than a gallon of water to make a gallon of ethanol compared to three gallons or more for other 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% on a full well-to-wheels basis compared with gasoline.

A pilot plant will be in operation in the fourth quarter of 2008. GM will use the fuel in testing vehicles at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds. Coskata expects to have its first commercial-scale plant with a capacity of 50-100 million gallons of ethanol per year running in 2011.

Coskata was founded in 2006 by leading renewable energy investors and entrepreneurs, including Khosla Ventures, Advanced Technology Ventures, and GreatPoint Ventures. Vinod Khosla appeared at the press conference in Detroit.



I think ever since the auto makers got in a bind with the higher price for oil, they have been looking for a way to be less dependent on it. I remember hearing that Henry Ford wanted to run his cars on methanol (wood alcohol), but Standard Oil told him that they could provide gasoline cheaper and would build the gas stations, refineries and provide the transportation. The rest, as they say, is history...


It seems like GM is coming to finally accept to recognize that real problems requires real solutions and that's a good point. Now they still have to admit that sustainable mobility requires to move away from the SUV based marketing approach, and they are not there yet...


I don't think that GM is responsible for the success of the SUV. People love them. So they sell them. It will be hard for GM to move away from them because ultimately they don't influence our decisions. They can only make a compelling product with good qualities (gas mileage included).


Ford and GM both were interested in promoting the SUV in the early 90s due to the success of the Jeep Cherokee. They knew that they could build them on their truck chassis and charge a premium for them. 60 minutes did a story about this and even though the person they were interviewing tried the story about just giving people what they want, the interviewer pointed out that they promoted them for many of the early years even when their models were not popular nor very profitable.


typical liberal bs, always blame corporate america first cause people are never the problem.
WRONG, if people didnt want SUV then GM wouldnt build them, period. People are always the problem.
If you dont like SUVs, then dont buy them and if enough people quit buying them then corporate america will respond.
I dont like and wont buy a SUV,however I like the fact that I can buy one if I want to, because thats what the US is about.


The world would be a less polluted, highways and roads less congested with fuel tankers, and starvation would be reduced if GM would focus on reducing the cost of its electrification strategy, rather than promoting ethanol as a vehicle fuel. Recycled plastic and tires from vehicles should be directed at making more tires and plastic, rather than converted to fuel.

Cellulosic waste streams and fuel crops should be converted to the only sustainable alcohol based fuel, i.e., Butanol because of its higher energy density, compatibility with pipeline transportation,
and flexibility for blending with both diesel and gasoline.


I will not argue the point, but research the facts. GM and Ford DID promote their SUVs for years before they became popular. You could say that this was just faith in their product or that they were high margin and profitable. Either way, they did promote them for years before sales and profits caught up.


The beauty of this technique is that any source of carbon can be used, and no expensive catalyst is used. The micro-organisms do all the work, and when their enzymes are destroyed, they repair them themselves.
Since this process is very scalable, it could fast become a very large source of biofuel.
changing the ethanol-output to something else like butanol or even biodiesel should be very easy : just use another micro-organism.

If external H2 (solar, nuclear, ...) is added to the reactor, a much higher conversion of bio-carbon to fuel will be possible.

This will be huge ! ! !


2.3 billion tons of biomass/year required to offset US transportation oil usage (pretend diesels can burn it too) via this process.

I think we're still going to need more efficient vehicles. But at least this is a start. Economic to do anytime oil is over about $50/barrel, I'd guess.

Harvey D

Mr. Reed:

You may be giving the USA public way too much credit. We have definately not reached that level of maturity. The majority buys and does what repeated ads are pushing. That's what it's all about.

The Vroom-Vroom drivers will buy the vehicles with repeated Vroom-Vroom ads, etc. The potential He-Man will buy Hummers thinking that he will become more virile and powerful driving a monster vehicle.

Europeans dont buy large American made SUVs because they are either anti-American or immune against American ads and/or are more mature. However, they will buy similar vehicles made in Japan, Korea, Germany etc, specially if they are diesel powered and use less fuel.

We have to admit that repeated Ads dictate our behavior a lot more than we think. The Malboro man was very effective. The new Malibu massive campaign will raise sales even if the product is not that much better. We are mostly naive believers. The Big Three know that.


GM and Ford did promote the SUV and pick up as passenge car before peoples want them, they took advantage of a loophole. Light Truck in the early 80s where considered as professional vehicle and where not required to meet CAFE standard, also there were protected by a 30% import tax, that's why amercan car manufacturer jumped into that opportunities to sell truck as passenger cars. And today they are doing the same with this flexfuel rip-off. They are selling million of flexfuel vehicle that will never burn any E85 because flexfuel cars are not supposed to meet CAFE standards.

Yes GM, Chrysler and FORD are responsible of american wasteful habits, yes they are responsible for american troop in iraq and war fo oil (under the cover of war for mass destruction weapons) , of course american customer are responsible too because they buy them but they didn't ask for them in the first place.

Whether the big three are responsible or not is not at issue. Is this a good idea?
It sounds like a desperate attempt to keep ICE's alive because we all know we parts and service keep the big
three alive.


Sorry sir

It does matter if the big three are responsible, because they haven't changed contrary to what they claim, they are jumping on the loophole of the flexfuel and trying to oppose Californian efforts to slash green house gas emission ass well as fighting oil addiction, they are corrupting politician to avoid that anything could change.


Funny, isn't it...? GM comes out with a new and innovative way to efficiently produce ethanol and it becomes an argument about what jerks they are. Go GM for being such an innovative jerk!


Wow, this is fantastic! This may make it easier for us to derive fuel from algae. Perhaps if this project succeeds then we can produce ethanol from algae using strains that are the most hardy and reproductive and not have to worry about their oil concentration.


Go Steve!

Exactly! Every entity in the world has it's good and bad parts. Can we please - PLEASE - praise courageous and innovative work (!?!?). Looks like GM is going to beat Toyota to the first real plug-in hybrid also. Who is decrying for Toyota's failure to lead here???

Let's please be fair and praise leadership - and not bring old prejudices. After all - if they are guilty regardless of their current actions - where's the motive to improve. Is that how we would want to be treated???




Don't get me wrong and read my first mail, I praised that they support an innovative action but that's not a reason to disregard their responsability in america oil addiction which is one of he most dangerous thing that threatenus given that it drives worlwide gepolitical turmoil and terrorism as well as exposing us to a violent shockwave as the peak oil is appraoching. Their responsability is not only thing of the past it is still today corruption and lobbying.


GM not guilty ? look at this...

no comment


Mr Harvey D. says:

"You may be giving the USA public way too much credit. We have definately not reached that level of maturity. The majority buys and does what repeated ads are pushing. That's what it's all about. "

I find this a contemptuous and underhanded attack on the intelligence of Americans and the consumer. Who are you to decide on the "level of maturity of Americans"? Nobody asked you and it is not your friggin business. Go and opinionate such BS artistry elsewhere, dude.

Ultimately, we are the agents for ourselves, and we have to accept responsibility for ourselves. Nobody has given you the power to decide what I can do or not do.

If I buy an SUV against my own interests, it is not your friggin business, and I did not ask your opinion about such general and bland anthrophobic statements.

If I take a bad decision, and buy an SUV, then I will pay, and I will learn. It is worth the learning experience.

I don't need a friggin social boss to tell me how to shop or how to think or how to value autos or whether my intentions are true or manipulated. Take your mind control somewhere else, and build your own society and then tell them what to consume. We don't need you in a free and open society.


Treehugger: Yes GM, Chrysler and FORD are responsible of american wasteful habits, yes they are responsible for american troop in iraq and war fo oil (under the cover of war for mass destruction weapons) , of course american customer are responsible too because they buy them but they didn't ask for them in the first place.

Bullshit. There were 4 or 5 reasons for invading Iraq, one was to end WMD production. In fact they did find many manufacturing plants for chemical warfare weapons, that were on standby status (but not producing the chemicals) that were dismantled. So you are wrong.

And the there was the reason to free 25 million human beings from the utter most slave-like social and political conditions which you don't have the foggiest idea about.

But of course you regressive post-colonial leftists would not give a rat's behind for other people's rights and liberties, do you? As long as you live in a free society that came about by the sacrifice of millions before you, and you have forgotten what the cost paid by others for us to live in an open society, then the rest be damned - is it not?

You like Saddam society, ey? Then move there and put your money where your mouth is. There is no Saddam anymore? - then move to Gaza strip, Tehran, or South Lebanon - or remain quiet, for chrises sake.


Treehugger, I am no fan of GM or large Yukon SUV's, but could you spell out what is "GM's responsibility in America's oil addiction"? Are American's paying through their nose for high gasoline prices or not? Are Americans so stupid and contemptous that they cannot discern that a smaller vehicle will consume less gas and cost less?

How about that in a decade, China will be consuming more oil than America. Is GM also responsible for the Chinese, Europeans, Arabs (the highest per capita consumption in the world today) and the Indians?

Or is it simply that you want to impose your half-ideas on the public, thinking you know so much more than the public as a whole?


There are about, what? a zillion? companies working on ethanol from waste.

Not many are going the gasification route. You really have to hope Coskata and GM are onto something here.

Anyways, what is GM doing here? It is really hard to say. But consider that Coskata is a triviality to GM. GM may be interested in acquiring some key people, or patents, or appeasing some in Congress or other pols. For GM this may be about boosting ethanol production but it need not be.


This is a brilliant move on GM's part. They can:

1) Continue producing large engines for large vehicles - which they are very good at. Americans (including myself) generally want big vehicles with a lot of power. If fuel had a fairly fixed cost of $1.25 - $2 a gallon, I would go back to a big truck in a heartbeat.
No one has demonstrated yet the capability of building big, powerful trucks/SUV's with a cheap/clean/renewable fuel.

2) Look green(actually be green) and be national security minded.

3) Protect jobs - including union jobs. There are an incredible number of jobs (esp. union jobs) related to big car/truck/engine production at GM. This allows them to keep more of the jobs they have remaining vs. hemmorage more due to layoffs (ie. Michigan - in a one state recession/depression).

Think about it - a sustainable domestic fuel source not related to our food supply with a production cost of $1 a gallon or less? Happy days would be here again for the Big 3.

Bob Bastard

If fuel had a fairly fixed cost of $1.25 - $2 a gallon, I would go back to a big truck in a heartbeat.

Excellent point ejj! I recommend forming a prayer group at your local church to pray for gas prices to fall back to $1.50/gal and for the Lord to put a 7 Liter HEMI in every garage.


ejj: these are fairly short term liquid fuel solutions that will eventually be replaced by SCAP/BEVs. But it is certainly good to see that GM and other manufacturers are taking steps to assure there will be biofuel for their next gen cars.

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