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CoolPlanet BioFuels claims conversion yield of 4K gallons gasoline per acre biomass

CoolPlanet BioFuels, a start-up developing technology to convert low-grade biomass into high-grade fuels including gasoline, and carbon that can be sequestered  (earlier post), claims it has achieved a conversion yield of 4,000 gallons gasoline/acre biomass in pilot testing using giant miscanthus, an advanced bioenergy crop.

On an energy basis, that yield is about 12 times greater than current corn ethanol production levels, the company noted.

These test results are based on nearly optimal crop growth conditions and demonstrate what is possible in a good growing season. Under more routine growing conditions, we estimate yields of about 3,000 gallons/acre should be achievable throughout the Midwest by selecting the proper energy crop for local conditions.

—Mike Cheiky, Cool Planet’s founder and CEO

The giant miscanthus was developed at the University of Mississippi and provided from a high yield plot by Repreve Renewables. Other advanced bio-energy crops, such as sorghum and switch grass, can provide similar annual yields using this new process.

Agricultural waste from food crops can also produce up to 1,000 gallons of gasoline/acre using this new technology.

Cool Planet utilizes mild process conditions. Input biomass is coarsely ground from in field air-dried bioenergy crops with moisture content in the 10-20% range. The total process time from biomass to fuel is under one hour. Total energy and biomass feedstock cost using today’s commodity pricing is under 60 cents/gallon.

The process creates ultra-high surface area carbon in an intermediate step of the conversion process. Some of this carbon can be diverted to form a soil enhancer which can grow more crops and sequester carbon dioxide.

Although opting to divert some of the carbon to soil enhancer will reduce the current fuel output, it can generate more fertile farm land for more food and fuel production over a several year period, particularly in areas which have low land productivity today. This sequestering process gives the Cool Planet fuel a low or even negative carbon rating.

CoolPlanet’s cellulosic gasoline is chemically identical to fossil gasoline. The only way it can be detected is by carbon 14 isotope analysis which determines the ratio of carbon from biomass versus carbon from fossil sources in a fuel mixture. Since this gasoline has no oxygenates, it is not subject to the ethanol blend wall and can be seamlessly mixed with pump gas.

CoolPlanet’s fuel has been tested by independent laboratories as well as four of the top ten gasoline producers in the world. The company has received California (CARB) and US EPA approval for fleet testing as a splash blend with conventional pump gasoline.

CoolPlanet’s pilot facilities can support several fleet tests. CoolPlanet has started fabrication of a mass production ready modular refinery, a design that facilitates rapid deployment around the US and the world. The company plans to install several plants over the next two years with rapid build out thereafter.

Investors in CoolPlanet include BP, Shea Ventures, General Electric, Google Ventures, ConocoPhillips, NRG and North Bridge Venture Partners. (Earlier post.)

Comments

SJC

They would have to have 80 tons of biomass per acre. An acre is 40,000 square feet, so that means growing 4 pounds of grass per square foot. If the grass is 10 feet tall, perhaps.

Switch grass was grown at 10 tons per acre with 100 gallons of alcohols per ton for 1000 gallons per acre, but that was alcohols and not synthetic gasoline. You might 500 gallons of synthetic gasoline, so this claim of 4000 is hard to believe.

HarveyD

They may have relied on much taller grass (10+ ft instead of 4 ft) from much high CO2 level (700+ ppm instead of 380 ppm) in the not too distant future?

ejj

They have some pretty heavy hitting investors & I don't see federal government involvement anywhere so I bet they are speaking the truth.

SJC

"The giant miscanthus was developed at the University of Mississippi..."

There is no telling what this plant does to the land, there is NO free lunch. Switch grass is native to the plains states and as such can grow almost anywhere.

This species is not indigenous and thus might just need LOTS more nutrients, you can not grow 10 feet tall by pulling the needed ingredients out of thin air, so to speak.

ai_vin

It's typical for this plant to grow 9 to 12 feet in height. From wikipedia: "Giant Miscanthus is capable of producing up to 20 tons of biomass (per acre) and 3,250 gallons of ethanol fuel." And "a typical acre of corn yields around 7.6 tons of biomass per acre and 756 gallons of ethanol." "switchgrass yields around 3-6 tons of biomass and 400-900 gallons of ethanol fuel."

These test results are based on nearly optimal crop growth conditions and demonstrate what is possible in a good growing season. Under more routine growing conditions, we estimate yields of about 3,000 gallons/acre should be achievable throughout the Midwest by selecting the proper energy crop for local conditions.

—Mike Cheiky, Cool Planet’s founder and CEO

They do indeed seem to be telling the truth as to what's "possible in a good growing season" but in the future "optimal crop growth conditions" might be harder to come by. The drought that hit America last year is still on going;

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/drought/

and you can expect more of the same this year.

ai_vin

Also from wikipedia: "M. giganteus is a C4 plant, and thus exhibits greater photosynthetic efficiency and lower water use requirements than other kinds of plants.[2] It has very low nutritional requirements – it has high nitrogen use efficiency and therefore is capable of growing well on barren land without the aid of heavy fertilization. M. giganteus is a sterile hybrid, and therefore propagates vegetatively through its rhizomes.[3] This quality makes it attractive for growth in areas foreign to M. giganteus – it is a completely non-invasive species. Additional researched benefits of M. giganteus include its ability to sequester carbon into the earth.[4]"

"C4 carbon fixation is one of three biochemical mechanisms, along with C3 and CAM photosynthesis, used in carbon fixation. It is named for the 4-carbon molecule present in the first product of carbon fixation in these plants, in contrast to the 3-carbon molecule products in C3 plants.

C4 fixation is an elaboration of the more common C3 carbon fixation and is believed to have evolved more recently. C4 and CAM overcome the tendency of the enzyme RuBisCO to wastefully fix oxygen rather than carbon dioxide in what is called photorespiration. This is achieved by using a more efficient enzyme to fix CO2 in mesophyll cells and shuttling this fixed carbon via malate or asparate to bundle-sheath cells. In these bundle-sheath cells, RuBisCO is isolated from atmospheric oxygen and saturated with the CO2 released by decarboxylation of the malate or oxaloacetate. These additional steps, however, require more energy in the form of ATP. Because of this extra energy requirement, C4 plants are able to more efficiently fix carbon in only certain conditions, with the more common C3 pathway being more efficient in other conditions."

Those "certain conditions" are full sun and moist fertile soil, in plant hardiness zones 5 to 9 - which fortunately cover most of the US.

Lucas


I bought several M. giganteus plants about five yours ago to see how they would do out here in Western Wyoming. Some of them are still alive but are only about 2 feet tall each year.

Even though the soil is very fertile, the growing season is short. Frost in July and August is not uncommon. My Switchgrass seed didn't even come up.

A D

Im interrested to buy synthetic gasoline.

ejj

I hope this technology really takes off. The more diverse sources of energy we can have, the better.

SJC

It sounds good, I guess with absolutely ideal conditions, this could result. I am not sure I would want to set expectations in this way for investors and customers, but to see what can be done, it might be a worthwhile exercise.

Treehugger

Their approach is probably the most comprehensive in the biofuels industry as they try to tackle the whole problem including transformation of the biomass in the field carbon capture, high yield using perennial crop, compatibility with existing fuel.

Still the numbers they give are outstanding 3 to 4K gallons / acre is incredible 3 to 4 times what Brazilian sugarcane can do.

SJC
Some plant can indeed make fertilizer from thin air, plant like cloves can fix nitrogen in the soil thanks to bacteria in their roots. Sure you still need phosphorus, magnesium and potassium but these nutrients can be recycled as they are not part of the end product. Also the deep roots of perennial crops can get nutrients from deep layers of the soil so require much less fertilizer

Frustum

ejj said: "... & I don't see federal government involvement anywhere so I bet they are speaking the truth."

I don't follow your logic at all. Do you think companies which are 100% privately funded don't have motivation to lie or exaggerate? Was Enron corrupted by federal money?

Getting back to the article, I can only hope it is true, but it is such a dramatic increase over current state of the art I'd want to see some independent confirmation of their claims.

HarveyD

Very few private firms tell the truth about their products. Painting a rosy picture is the common thing to do. Dividing their claims by 2 or 3 (i.e. by 2.5) is about right:

Peak 4000 gal/acre divided by 2.5 = 1600 gal/acre

Average maximum 3000 gal/acre = 1200 gal/acre

In the end, they may produce something between 1200 and 1600 gal/acre in very good years.

SJC

"Agricultural waste from food crops can also produce up to 1,000 gallons of gasoline/acre using this new technology."

"Other advanced bio-energy crops, such as sorghum..."

I would favor biomass stalks from a feed crop be used to get double duty from the land. Since there are 500 million pasture land acres and perhaps 100 million could be planted in grasses we might just have a future fuel source.

They plan to return the carbon to the land for more fertile soil, which is a good idea. Years ago I outlined a vision of bio processing plants every 10 by 10 miles in the growing regions of the country. I was told it would never work for various reasons, maybe it just might.

ai_vin

Another good energy crop is hemp. You can't grow it in America for legal reasons but in Canada we've been allowed to grow industrial hemp since 1998. Hemp can produce 10 tons of biomass per acre in four months and in some places its warm enough to get 2 crops in a year. Its biomass can be converted to methane, methanol, or gasoline at a cost comparable to petroleum and its seeds produce an oil that can be used in diesel engines.

You can even make the cars themselves out of hemp; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_ldevrLFTs

ai_vin

Not a new idea by-the-way; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54vD_cPCQM8

SJC

I keep waiting for someone to come on and say "you can not replace all oil with this, so forget it", that sort of wisdom usually cuts through all the fog.

HarveyD

USA is currently one of about one dozen country with enough farm land to produce biomass for a very large portion of the liquid fuel required today. However, at the current growth rate, USA will have 520 million people to feed in 2050 and over 800 million by 2100.

Secondly, what would be the biomass production by acre after 10 years if the 100 million acres are not regularly fertilized at a very high financial and environmental cost?

Regardless of the drawbacks, it could be one of the way to reduce fossil fuel imports.

SJC

I do not know what will happen in 2050, but I do know what has happened since 1973 and the oil embargo. We had a chance to have synthetic fuels in 1979 and that was rejected. We now import much more oil at a much higher price, those are the facts I DO know.

kelly

Fascinating hemp videos, however the US is too busy being the world's leading imprisoner per capita to consider.

Alain

Biomass can be transformed via several routes to (almost) any food. Exactly through these techniques can (also) the productivity of food per acre be increased enormously.
This technology not only can produce huge amounts of fuel but also huge amounts of food in a much more environmently friendly manner. It can also improve soil quality and permanently sequester CO2.

wiki terra preta

sd

@HarveyD

"USA will have 520 million people to feed in 2050 and over 800 million by 2100."

Where did you get these numbers? The US birth rate is currently slightly below replacement rate. The only reason why our population is still growing is net in migration and that is also slowing. I would expect a nearly stable population or longer term maybe a slowly shrinking population but then it also hard to make predictions (especially about the future:).

HarveyD

sd...current growth rate was projected by population growth specialists to arrive at 2050 and 2100 totals. They may be on the save side. However, long lasting economic recessions could reduce population growth. Return to prosperity could increase population growth rate. If you look over the past 100 years, those figures may be under-stated.

fred schumacher

I'm a retired native grass seed farmer, so perhaps I can help with understanding of perennial grass biomass. Miscanthus giganteus is a naturally occurring sterile hybrid of M. sinensis and M. sachariflorus. Its sterility is a real asset for biomass production, since it doesn't put any energy into seed production. This allows it to produce a large volume of biomass and carbon sequestration on very low nutrient inputs. Test plots at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign produce 25 tonnes per hectare, without any fertilizer, tillage, or irrigation input, while sequestering 4 tonnes of carbon per year. This is a yield of almost 11 tons per acre, or more than twice the average corn crop in that area. M. giganteus grows to 12 feet tall and is harvested after full senescence, when all the leaves have dropped and only stalks are left.

Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, a native perennial and a crop I used to grow, produces about half as much biomass as M. giganteus. However, as I explained to the researchers, they were growing the wrong cultivar and should switch to a southern variety to trigger phenological sterility. Field trials in Quebec have shown that southern cultivars produce the highest biomass yield. Switchgrass is very cold tolerant and can stand being moved north. Switchgrass has the advantage of being a better soil stabilizer and wildlife habitat creater than M. giganteus and can be etablished from seed. M. giganteus has to be established from root stocks.

These are both C4 photosynthesis pathway plants, which means they use a two-stage process, the second part of which operates at night. However, the chemistry requires ambient temperatures above 10 degrees C, which is why plantings in high elevation Wyoming won't work. It's too cold at night. The test plots at CoolPlanet are in southern California with year-round growing season, so biomass production can be very high, although irrigation would be required during the dry season, if the plantings are not on high water-table soils.

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