Baby Steps Taken To Commercialize 2nd Gen Ethanol

Building a commercial second-generation biofuel facility is no easy task. Earlier this year, the DOE scaled back its requirement that 100 million gallons of second-generation ethanol be on the market by 2011 to just 5.3 million gallons citing the difficulty in securing financing to set up commercial facilities.

This month, pointed out that, at least according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), there still won’t be enough cellulosic (second-generation) ethanol on the market next year to meet requirements even with the scaled back number.

Meanwhile just last week, Algenol Biofuels, a company that produces ethanol directly from carbon dioxide using blue-green algae announced that it is opening a pilot-scale facility in Lee County, Florida, right next to its R&D center.

The 36-acre facility will demonstrate Algenol’s Direct To Ethanol technology, which uses CO2 and seawater to make ethanol from hybrid algae in sealed, clear plastic photobioreactors. The Dow Chemical Company, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Membrane Technology and Research (MTR) are among Algenol’s research partners in this project.

According to Jim Moore, Executive Director of the Fort Myers Regional Partnership in Lee County’s Economic Development Office, the facility will employ about 120 people and represents millions of dollars that will be invested into the community.  “This also furthers our commitment to green energy and diversification in Southwest Florida,” he said.

Of course a pilot-scale facility like this one won’t make dent in terms of meeting next year’s renewable fuels requirement, but it is at least one small step toward making ethanol from algae commercially viable.

There has been some interesting discussion on this fall on how close we are to real commercialization of biofuel from algae.  See “Algae for Biofuels: Moving from Promise to Reality, But How Fast?” and  “Is Algae Biodiesel a Decade Away?” for more.

GE Invests in CoolPlanetBiofuels

In related biofuel news last week, CoolPlanetBiofuels announced that GE Financial Services joined in an $8 million investment round the company just completed. 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.

According to CoolPlanet, it is developing a thermal/mechanical processor that directly inputs raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residues and non-food fuel crops, and produces gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional hydrocarbon fuel. The company said that it is also developing simple one- step catalytic conversion processes that mate with the processor’s output gas streams to produce products such as eBTX (gasoline), synthetic diesel and proprietary ultra- high-yield super fuels. This process also produces a type of char, which can be used to sequester carbon and act as a soil conditioner, CoolPlanet said.