Coskata Forms Strategic Alliance with ICM for Design and Construction of Syngas Fermentation Ethanol Plant
Coskata Inc., the second-generation ethanol startup with which GM announced a partnership and investment at the Detroit Auto Show (earlier post), has entered a strategic alliance with ICM, Inc. to design and construct a commercial ethanol plant using Coskata’s syngas fermentation technology.
ICM is North America’s leading ethanol plant design, engineering and support firm, and is responsible for approximately 50% of North American ethanol production from plants constructed by Fagen, Inc. and ICM.
The first full-commercial scale Coskata plant is expected to open in late 2010. A pilot plant is due in operation in the fourth quarter of this year. GM will use the fuel produced by that pilot plant in testing vehicles at its Milford Proving Grounds.
Coskata uses a three-step syngas-to-ethanol process:
Gasification. Carbon-based feedstock is converted into syngas using well-established gasification technologies. Coskata has not yet named the gasification technology to be used in the initial plant. The syngas is then fed to a bioreactor for fermentation.
Fermentation. Coskata’s proprietary microorganisms convert the resulting syngas into ethanol by consuming the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) in the gas stream.
Separation. Pervaporation technology separates and recovers the ethanol.
Coskata’s process is based on research and technology developed by the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Biofuels Team and licensed exclusively to Coskata. The licensing agreement between OSU and Coskata includes the microorganisms used in syngas fermentation, with a companion research agreement for any aspects of the syngas fermentation technology that would aid them in production. Since providing the initial three strains of microorganisms in 2006, Coskata-funded research with the OSU Biofuels Team has provided two additional microorganisms for the company.
Coskata has already picked its leading strain for the first plant, and is continuing primarily to advance that strain for commercialization, according to Wes Bolsen, Chief Marketing Office and Vice President of Business Development for Coskata. The company has seen 50x as much ethanol expression in this particular strain. The newer strains will be for additional plants and products.
According to Coskata, the proprietary microorganisms do what syngas conversion from chemical catalysis cannot do, which is make a pure stream of ethanol at the lowest cost target in the industry. Coskata projects that it will be able to produce ethanol for less than $1.00 per gallon almost anywhere in the world from a wide variety of feedstocks.
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.
In addition to ICM’s own research and development efforts, ICM evaluated other potential cellulosic ethanol technologies to identify commercially viable processes. Coskata’s thermal biomass conversion process offers promising technology.—Dave Vander Griend, president and CEO of ICM