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GE Energy Financial Services joins $8M investment round in biomass-to-gasoline startup

Gas chromatograph traces of conventional 87 octane gasoline (top) and CoolPlanetBioFuels drop-in gasoline produced from corn cobs. Source: CoolPlanetBioFuels. Click to enlarge.

GE Energy Financial Services, a unit of GE, has joined an $8-million funding round for CoolPlanetBioFuels, a start-up company developing a technology that converts low-grade biomass into high-grade fuels, including gasoline, and carbon that can be sequestered. This venture capital investment was led by North Bridge Venture Partners, which had also led CoolPlanet’s financing round last year. Additional financial details were not disclosed. CoolPlanet’s research and development facilities are located in Camarillo, CA.

CoolPlanetBioFuels is developing modular thermal/mechanical processors which directly input raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residue, and algae and produces multiple distinct gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional fuel components.

In support of the biomass fractionator, the company is also developing a range of one-step catalytic conversion processes which mate with the fractionator’s output gas streams to produce products such as eBTX (high octane gasoline), synthetic diesel and proprietary ultra-high crop yield “super” fuels.

CoolPlanetFuels’s proprietary biofractionator modules can produce a range of high-value hydrocarbon fuel components at low cost. Click to enlarge.

At the GoingGreen Silicon Valley 2010 conference in October, Mike Rocke, CoolPlanetBiofuels VP Business Development, said that the startup could produce carbon-neutral gasoline from biomass for less than $1.00/gallon US.

Biomass throughput time in the biomass fractionator is minutes, Rocke said earlier at a conference at Stanford. Two fractionators in a module can produce one million gallons of gasoline per year, with capex of $0.50/gallon to install—i.e., $0.10/gallon over a five year life.

CoolPlanetBioFuels plans to package its biomass fractionator together with an open architecture chemical processing section in standard modular shipping containers which can each produce up to 1 million gallons of fuel per year. These modular fuel processors can be equipped with CoolPlanetBioFuels’ catalytic conversion processes and/or a third-party selection of dryers, separators, catalytic processes, and so on.

Fast thermal/mechanical processing of biomass typically also produces a large quantity of neutral carbon since biomass has substantial excess carbon versus hydrogen when used to produce conventional petrochemical fuel components. The company is also developing long term sequestration options for this excess carbon.

When the excess process carbon is used for fuel such as a coal substitute, the entire process is carbon neutral and, thus produces both carbon neutral petrochemical compatible components and a carbon neutral coal substitute, the company says.

Alternately, if the excess carbon is sequestered long term as soil conditioner, the corresponding petrochemical components can have an N100 Negative Carbon Rating. That is, their use is not only carbon neutral in nature, but has associated with it, an equivalent amount of carbon sequestration, thus providing up to twice the global warming reduction benefits of technologies such as solar or wind electricity production and solar or wind recharged electric vehicles.

We’ve been very impressed by the progress CoolPlanet has made since we initially backed it one year ago and are pleased to have GE on board. The fuel market is one of the world’s largest at about $4 trillion per year. Today, biofuels are only a tiny portion of that market, but are poised for rapid growth based on concerns about global warming and importing oil.

—Basil R. Horangic, North Bridge Venture Partners



"At the GoingGreen Silicon Valley 2010 conference in October, Mike Rocke, CoolPlanetBiofuels VP Business Development, said that the startup could produce carbon-neutral gasoline from biomass for less than $1.00/gallon US."

If any of this is true:

Produce the <$1/gal. gas - some how, it will sell.
Has the <$1/gas technology been 'bought and buried' by big oil?

Chris Jensen

There are large well funded corporations out there that will do almost anything to keep the ice from dying.


Does garbage qualify as low grade biomass? If so, this could become an ideal way to get rid of our garbage mountains while producing essential low cost fuels and chemicals, specially if Carbon can be collected and re-use.


If we can get 1000s of these units where the biomass is grown, the nation can benefit from domestic fuels and less imported oil. Just corn cobs can provide E5 without any corn grain. If you want to go to synthetic gasoline you can, it is a matter of energy in to energy out.

It is not a plan to extend the use of the internal combustion engine, but we have 200 million of them on the highways now using liquid fuel. To say everyone should scrap those and replace 200 million of them with electric is not probable. You go with what you have and work on a better solution over time, that is more practical.


You should be able to fine tune the output by using different temperatures, pressures and catalyst depending on the CH balance of the feedstock

Henry Gibson

Coal-to-liquid and natural gas to liquid can both produce cheap liquid fuel. The founder of jet blue said that such fuels could be had for less than 35 dollars a barrel. It is the threat of the US Congress and the environmentalists that prevent the large scale building of such facilities in the US. China has been building many coal to chemical producton facilities because it is far cheaper than petro chemicals. Carbon wise, it is better and cheaper to just throw all of the biomass into an old salt mine where it will never rot. And just use coal or more oil. ..HG..


Since a large part of the carbon is sequestered for millenia and improves vastly soil productivity (wiki terra preta) and it produces top-quality liquid fuels, this is by far the best way to produce biofuels.
Adding renewable H2 to convert the spare-CO2 would be even better, but this technology is the only green fuel that is truely carbon-negative and could compensate for historical emittions.
It is more environmentally better to transform dead biomass into carfuel and drive an SUV than to let it rot and return entirely to CO2.


If CTL and BTL are cheap, someone should tell me where to get some. The price always seems to go up as things get more real; even Sasol gave up coal as a feedstock in favor of NG. And we can't forget that the USA uses about 40 quads/year of oil, but only digs about 30 quads/year of coal... and CTL is only about 50% efficient. Where would we get another 70-80 quads of coal?

I like the idea of sequestering carbon, but gasifying char to make hydrogen for other processing is probably a better option for now.


1 billion tons of biomass can create 100 billion gallons of methanol, that is a good start. If we have 1000s of small BTL plants where the biomass is, we can pipe, rail or truck the fuel where we need it.

The response that we can not run ALL cars on biofuels so forget it is meaningless. If we can reduce imported oil even 10% it is worth the effort. $400 billion dollars going out of the country every year for oil is not acceptable.


100 billion gallons of MeOH is the energy equivalent of about 50 billion gallons of gasoline or 45 billion gallons of diesel; it would replace roughly 26% of US motor fuel consumption (gasoline + diesel).

The problem is that 10% of imported oil isn't nearly enough to save the US economy from being bled dry by import costs; it's likely that 50% isn't enough. Methanol from biomass is a lot better than many other possibilities, but we need a lot more than it can do. This means a broad shift from road to rail and liquids to electricity.


We can make fuel from natural gas along with biomass. They are talking about a pipeline from Alaska as well as the shale gas here. Put methanol into a PHEV that gets 40 mpg on gasoline and it would get 20 mpg on methanol, but it is made here and does not use imported oil. Combine that with the plug capability to go 40 miles on electric and you reduce imported oil even more.


Making liquid fuel from natural gas is horribly lossy; Robert Rapier reports that Shell's Bintulu GTL plant is only 45% efficient.

We would have to more than double NG production to replace gasoline. This is Not Going To Happen.


I am not saying replace all gasoline, just reduce imported oil. Biomass and natural gas can reduce imported oil and run in OFS FFVs by the millions with the present infrastructure that we have.


You don't ask if the reduction we can get with GTL and BTL will do what we need done. I submit that it won't.


So what is your solution? Converting every car to CNG? Taking the NG and producing electricity, transmitting it and putting it in BEVs? 100 million people are suppose to trade in their cars for EVs over the next 10 years? People talk about "electrification" but what are the chances it will actually happen on a large scale real soon now?


This is not only one way to make liquid fuels suistainably, but also an important step for climat-Plan-B.
In case the electorate keeps on believing the fairytales that fossil fuels are no problem and that climate change is an illusion, we will only start make the real changes when it's too late for plan A (plan A = prevent catastrophic CO2-rise).
This is a possible way to remove vast amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and restore soil quality to its pre-agricultural level.


You want my solution? It's politically unpopular (and I'm sure you won't like it), but here it is:

  1. Put heavy taxes on petroleum in general and motor fuels in particular. There should be at least $3/gallon in taxes. I would phase this in at a nickle a month for 5 years. All subsidies and mandates for "alternatives" would be phased out, and fossil inputs to alternatives should be taxed too. The effect would be to make cars like the Prius, the Chevy Cruze and the Ford Fusion Hybrid the default choice, cutting fuel consumption by close to half even before other measures start to hit. Ethanol would probably fade out.
  2. Revive US battery technology. Instead of buying everything from LG Chem, we should have near-term domestic suppliers based on things like Firefly Energy's 3D cells (yes I know they went bust, but IP doesn't just die).
  3. Override cost-escalating state mandates for PHEVs, like California's 150,000 mile battery warranty requirement.  If the battery is priced like a service item, it should be allowed to be a service item.
  4. Promote charging infrastructure, especially for rental housing.
  5. Promote interoperable backup infrastructure. Why shouldn't U-Haul rent trailers with generators on them, so the people with Focus EVs can go out of town on a whim in their own cars?
That woudl do it. All of the other stuff, like using NG in CCGTs to charge EVs and a big push for nuclear and wind, would happen on its own; that's the market at work.


I can't believe I didn't catch "woudl".


That is a good set of ideas, combined with other proven solutions we could actually reduce imported OPEC oil and keep the money in the U.S.

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