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Cobalt Technologies Launches Biobutanol Pilot Facility in California

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.




This is a lab facility, Mountain View is not known for their agricultural and forest biomass. I wish them the best, but I favor gasification and synthesis.

John L.

SJC: the mountains of Santa Cruz are not far off, there is some logging there. Also, there is a plentiful supply of rice straw in the nearby Central Valley.

I'm sure they can do a decent industrial-scale pilot project in Mountain View. I for one hope that it works, and that it proves to be reasonably economical.

Then -- if for nothing more than a little PR -- I hope they open an on-site gas station which sells their bio-butanol blend. Prius drivers like myself will go a few miles out of our way to fill our tanks there! :^)


This is awesome! If butanol were the current ethanol, there would be no special FFV needed to run "butanol-85" or "butanol-100" even.


It does not seem economical to haul rice straw from the central valley and I am not aware of much logging in the Santa Cruz mountains any more. We will see if this larger scale plant is located there.

"The company plans to scale up to a commercial facility within the next two years."

Which does not say that it will be there. They just want to be where the venture capital is so that they can show the process for now. The best place for the larger facility is where the biomass is plentiful and the land is cheap.

Henry Gibson

They should develop a fementation process that uses natural gas as most of the energy source with CO2 and hydrogen made from natural gas or any other source as alternate input energy. ..HG..

Henry Gibson

Why is no one promoting thermal solar hydrogen production. Or are they?? ..HG..


There are a few companies developing concentrated solar thermal hydrogen production, but they were years ahead of their time. The old phrase is "timing is everything" and while it may not be everything, it IS important.

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