Cobalt Technologies, a company using strain development and bioprocess technology to optimize biobutanol production for commercially viable renewable fuels and chemicals, formally launched its pilot facility in Mountain View, California. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Silicon Valley cleantech leaders were on hand.
Cobalt uses non-food feedstock, such as forest waste and mill residues, and its technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 85% compared to gasoline. A 12% blend of Cobalt biobutanol with gasoline, already permissible under US EPA guidelines, complies with the requirements of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
Cobalt’s form of biobutanol (n-butanol) is versatile. It can be used as a standalone fuel; blended with gasoline, diesel and ethanol; converted into jet fuel or plastics, or sold as is for use in paints and coatings. Butanol has a higher energy content than ethanol and is less polluting. In addition, it is fully compatible with today’s automobile engines and pipeline infrastructure.
|Cobalt proprietary strains process diverse feedstock to produce butanol. Source: Cobalt. Click to enlarge.|
The production cost of alcohol fuel is strongly dependent on three key process parameters: yield, rate and titer. Cobalt’s technical focus addresses each of these:
Biomass conversion efficiency. Cobalt 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 increased yield, and hence greater efficiency.
Continuous alcohol production. Instead of using conventional batch fermentation, Cobalt is developing and patenting key production monitoring technologies that will enable the fermentation process to run continuously—“poising” the fermentation at peak production rates for extended periods of time. By combining this approach with its microbial physiology and genetic engineering expertise, Cobalt can substantially increase the rate of alcohol fuel production, thereby reducing production cost.
Energy and Water Efficiency. The concentration of biofuel, or titer, in the fermentation steep determines the cost of the energy-intensive separation process. Cobalt’s patented fluid separations technology (vapor compression distillation, or VCD) 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 drastically reducing water usage by recycling the VCD-purified water back into the process with a substantial reduction in the overall water requirement.
Cobalt is backed by leading investors in the cleantech sector, including Pinnacle Ventures, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Burrill and Company, Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund, Life Science Partners (LSP), @Ventures, and Harris & Harris. The company plans to scale up to a commercial facility within the next two years.
Cobalt Biofuels (2008)