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Cobalt Biofuels Raises $25 Million to Commercialize Biobutanol

California-based Cobalt Biofuels has raised $25 million in equity to accelerate the commercialization of its cost-effective biochemical process for biobutanol production. Cobalt says that the advantages of its process are based on advances in microbial strain improvement, fermentation reaction management, and separation technology.

The Series C equity round was co-led by LSP and Pinnacle Ventures and included both new and existing investors. The Series C round had strong participation from Cobalt Biofuels’ existing institutional investors, including Pinnacle Ventures, Vantage Point Venture Partners, The Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund and @Ventures. New investors included LSP and Harris and Harris. Fouad Azzam, General Partner of LSP, will be joining the Board.

Closing a funding round of this size in this economic environment is a testimony to the strength of Cobalt Biofuels’ technology and the tremendous potential that biobutanol has as a next generation biofuel.

—Ken Pelowski, Founder and Managing Partner of Pinnacle Ventures and a Cobalt Biofuels director

With properties superior to that of ethanol, butanol (C4H9OH) is generally being considered as a gasoline blend component that could be used in higher concentrations even in the legacy fleet. The BP-DuPont partners have demonstrated 16% blend rates with biobutanol versus a 10% blend rate with ethanol (Bu16 vs E10). Test results presented by BP and DuPont showed that bio-derived 1-butanol (also called n-butanol) performs similarly to unleaded gasoline on key parameters, and that biobutanol formulations meet key characteristics of a “good” spark ignition fuel, including high energy density, controlled volatility, sufficient octane and low levels of impurities. (Earlier post.)

Cobalt plans to produce biobutanol from a diverse range of non-food feedstocks, and is developing and patenting a high-throughput process to identify the optimal microbe for any selected plant substrate. This technology will allow Cobalt to efficiently match organisms to each regionally appropriate feedstock. With feedstock diversity, Cobalt Biofuels can site its facilities in a wide range of geographies and use the feedstock available locally. These advantages reduce the cost of the fuel and also increase environmental sustainability across the Cobalt Biofuels value chain, according to the company.

Instead of using a typical batch fermentation process, Cobalt is developing and patenting key production monitoring technologies that will poise a continuous fermentation process at peak production rates for extended periods of time. By combining this approach with the microbial physiology and genetic engineering expertise, Cobalt says that it can substantially increase the rate of alcohol fuel production, thereby reducing production cost.

The concentration of biofuel, or titer, in the fermentation steep determines the cost of the energy intensive separation process. Cobalt’s uses a patented vapor compression distillation (VCD) fluid separation technology that removes alcohol from the fermentation steep using one-fourth the energy required for typical separation techniques. The titer also determines the overall water usage of the biorefinery. Cobalt’s technology has the additional advantage of reducing water usage by recycling the VCD-purified water back into the process with a substantial reduction in the overall water requirement.


Healhty Breeze

Butanol from algae, anyone?

I'm wondering, if the fermentation plants are distrubted to be near the biomass, and the biomass (from algae) is near where the carbon sources are (smokestacks, agricultural runoff, sewage)...where then should teh gasoline and butanol be mixed together? Does that happen at one of the 15 or so major refineries in the US? Can the butanol be mixed with the gasoline in the tanker truck on the way to the gas station?

What kind of transportation challenges does n-butanol have, even though you can put it through existing gasoline distribution pipelines?


Healthy B: I can't answer your questions.

There has been a very vigorous discussion about butanol (see SSFR down below on GCC) in the last two days. So you will get answers.

I think there are 4 types of butanol all behaving much the same.

The consensus seems to be that butanol can be mixed with gasoline anywhere, any time, and in any ratio. So whatever can transport gasoline can handle butanol.

It is also said to be gentle as a lamb, doesn't smell very good, and is toxic. But all of this stuff is toxic to one degree or another.

nrg nut

In spite of all the crashing and flailing about of the "economy" those darned capitalists keep raising money for money making schemes. Hey, if it's sustainable and won't take tacos from the mouths of babes - give it a go.

Henry Gibson

The chemical known as n-butanol or 1-butanol is the most suitable liquid fuel for spark ignition automobiles. Except for the standard iso-octane, butanol would probably be the most preferred automobile fuel.

It would be very nice to have a fast and certain process to convert two ethanol molecules to one butanol molecule. The larger tank that ethanol requires is not hard to build in most cars. But butanol is more friendly to existing fuel systems.

Butane or propane are actually the best all-round fuels for spark ignition vehicles if the engines are made for their use. They are liquid at low pressures, allow very high compression and have a high weight energy density. An electro-turbo-charged high compression engine is probably the most efficient, compact, engine possible for small vehicles.

Butanol can be stored indefinately without the changes that happen in ordinary gasoline, so it is a fuel that can be stockpiled forever but immediatly useable.

Dibutyl-ether, made from two molecules of butanol with simple catalysts, is probably the best replacement for petroleum diesel fuel. Di-methyl ether, DME, is made from two methanol molecules, and is a propane like diesel replacement now being tested.

All that said, forests and fields cannot provide sufficient biomass to be a substantial part of the energy source of the US or any other industrial country.

Nuclear energy plants can be built that can supply fuels at less than $2.00 a gallon gasoline equivalent. This fuel would best be butanol. what percentage of people would would buy fuel at three dollars a gallon if NUKE-butanol were available across the street for two. Which would sell best at Costco.

Twenty five atoms of postassium destroy themselves every second in nano-atomic bomb blasts in every pound of the human body and give off deadly radiation that has killed almost no creature in three billion years of life on earth. Life is and has always needed to be resistant to and tolerant of radio-activity. People, who live or work at high altitudes, show that radiation two or three times what people receive on the coast, does not cause measurable damage. People also live where radiation from the ground is many times the average.


I think biobutanol is the right way to go in the short-term because of our large "legacy fleet" but in the mid-term I still say we should go with biogas.

We can start the process now by converting some vehicles to NG and implimenting the Pickens Plan and then blending in biomethane as it comes online. NG can be run in gasoline or diesel engines, used straight up or blended (with biomethane and/or hydrogen) and stored/transported in exsisting infrastructure. In my experience the easiest vehicles to convert are pick-up trucks (drove one for years), because you can put the tanks in the open bed, and fleet-use vehicles (that pick-up I drove was a pizza delivery truck), because it's easier to get bank loans and government grants and you can set up centralized refueling. Long haul trucks and buses love the stuff BTW.

In the long-term we have got to electrify our transport system. And not just with the PHEVs and BEVs we could start with now; think rail - local, like LRT and cargotrams, and national, if the Russians can haul freight across Siberia in trains run off an overhead wire we can do the same here.

John Galt

LOL @ self-touting press releases and online commentariat experts.

Butanol is toxic, corrosive and not more efficient than ethanol. It's a complementary intermediate technology. It's a useful solvent, has slight benefits for drop-in replacement and mostly useful as a market for c-5 sugars from cellulosic feedstocks. Also makes great higher alcohol esters for biodiesel and biolubricants, but so do fusel oils from ethanol production.

Any company that sells butanol into the fuel market rather than the high priced industrial solvent market should be sued by it's shareholders.

Steve Townsend

@ John Galt

Don't your comments qualify you as one of those "online commentariat experts" that you laugh at? Here's laughing at you!



Thanks John. Interesting post.

Lets see, if we transported via electric trains rather than diesel trucks, the cost of goods would go up. But the cost of health care for all the damage diesels do would go down. Is that a bargain?

If we all drove PHEV's with an AER greater than our daily drive average, we would cut our gasoline consumption by 2/3. So domestic oil and bio-fuels, ethanol or butanol would allow us to break our foreign oil dependence.

So the barriers are a lack of leadership, from the same "ruling elitists" that managed Fanny May and Freddy Mac.
Go figure


@John Galt

I would have thought that creating more butanol for fuel would also drop the price for butanol used as a solvent and the two would essentially balance out. Is there a difference between the type of butanol that is used for solvents vs the type used for biofuel? In other words, would you have to choose to produce one vs. the other?

black ice

@ anonymous

PHEV's, HEV's, and BEV's are all marketing tricks intended to have you pay more for something that is more CO2-intensive on a full lifecycle basis than a simple gasoline/diesel car. Don't let yourself be fooled by them!


@John Galt

You know there is another solvent I sometimes use to cut grease, it too is toxic, and also flameable, but it's relatively cheap and real easy to get. It's called gasoline.

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