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Tying Up Loose Ends on Coskata

While I am a skeptic by nature, I am a problem-solver as well. I always ask the people around me – and I try to practice this at all times – if you come across a problem, or envision that you will have a problem, try to envision a solution as well. Otherwise, you have simply created an obstacle. This is important in my current job, as we have commercialized a technology that had never been commercialized before. It’s sort of like chess: Envision where you are going, the potential problems as you make your journey, and how you will cope with that. The more contingencies you have planned for, the higher your chances of success. These are principles I live by. The reason I feel the need to point this out is that some read my skepticism in some quarters as a “can’t do” attitude.

With that preface, there are a couple of things that I left unresolved in my Coskata investigation. One was my questions on the energy balance. But I also wanted to do a mass balance – or at least a carbon balance – around the process to see if those claims of 100 gallons of ethanol per ton of woody biomass are realistic. I also want to look at the logistics to get a feel for the amount of biomass required to run a 100 million gallon a year plant.

Finally, I will offer some advice to someone thinking of investing into Coskata, or any energy startup. I am not going to offer up solutions to potential problems simply because I would require quite a bit more information to do so. But what I can do is flag various areas that a prospective investor should investigate.

Mass Balance

Let’s take the mass balance first. Woody biomass contains around 50% carbon. I have that from personal conversations with Roger Rowell, one of the world’s foremost wood experts and my part-time room-mate in the Netherlands. But if that’s not good enough, here’s another source that indicates that 50% carbon is a reasonable estimate. Therefore, in a ton of dry, woody biomass there is a half ton of carbon. The atomic weight of carbon is 12, and there are 454 grams in a pound, so the number of moles of carbon (remember freshman chemistry?) is 1,000 pounds * 454 grams/(12 grams/mole) = 37,833 moles of carbon.

Each ethanol molecule has two carbons, so if you had 100% conversion of the woody biomass to syngas and then to ethanol (of course you won’t, but I want to get the maximum theoretical yield) you would have 37,833/2, or 18,917 moles of ethanol. The molecular weight of ethanol is 46, so if we convert the ethanol into pounds we get (18,917 moles * 46 grams/mole)/454 grams/pound = 1917 pounds of ethanol. That’s the absolute maximum theoretical yield based on carbon, and assumes that we have added enough oxygen to the mix (during the gasification step). The density of ethanol is about 6.6 pounds per gallon, so this leads to 1917 lb/(6.6 lb/gal) = 290 gallons of ethanol per ton of woody biomass. (Note that in reality, depending on the specific metabolic pathway, there may be CO2 produced whenever a molecule of ethanol is produced, lowering the theoretical yield).

Conclusion from that exercise? Some of the available carbon will go into microbe production, and some will end up as carbon dioxide. Some will be lost as tail gas in the process. But if 100 gallons is converted to ethanol, that means only 34% of the carbon in the starting biomass ended up as ethanol. Therefore, claims of 100 gallons (or more) per ton of woody biomass are consistent with the chemistry.

Energy Balance

This is where I feel like there is a problem. Let’s put all of the energy inputs and outputs out there and see.

Here is a reference for the BTU content of woody biomass. As you can see, the energy value varies quite a bit depending on moisture content and type of wood. The numbers are clustered around 12.5 million BTUs/ton, so I will use that as a standard. Coskata reports that a ton of woody biomass will produce 100 gallons of ethanol. As noted in the previous section, that is a believable statement. This much ethanol contains 8.4 million BTUs (based on the higher heating value, as was the case with woody biomass). The problem though with calculating an energy return is that there are energy inputs that go into producing the oxygen for the gasifier. And air separation units suck up a lot of energy (and capital).

But I can do a different exercise. If I have a solution that is 3.5% ethanol, as Wes told me their fermentation broth is, how much energy does it take to get it out? If I had access to a process simulator – and I don’t have one here in the U.S. (but I do in the Netherlands), then we could actually determine the break even point; that is the point at which the energy I put into the separation is equivalent to the energy of the ethanol I am separating.

But I can do a crude illustration. If I have a pound of fermentation broth, then there are 0.965 pounds of water and 0.035 pounds of ethanol. The amount of energy in that much ethanol is 0.035 lb * 1 gal/6.6 lb * 76,000 BTUs/gal = 403 BTUs. The heat of vaporization for water is 970 BTUs/lb, so if you were going to vaporize the mostly aqueous mixture (which you would do in a conventional distillation) it would take around 940 BTUs – more than twice what you could get back in the form of purified ethanol.

In a corn ethanol plant, the fermentation broth comes off at 16% ethanol or so. For our same exercise above, there are 1840 BTUs of ethanol in the mix, which is well more than enough to justify vaporizing the mixture. That should roughly illustrate the mountain that a 3.5% ethanol mixture has to climb.

Of course that implicitly assumes that the value of the BTUs that are being used to separate the ethanol are roughly equivalent in value to those in the ethanol. That may not be the case, and there may be times where there is an economic justification. For instance, let’s say you had a bunch of waste heat that you can use. It might make sense. But as always, I would ask the question whether boiling water is the most efficient usage of those BTUs.

Coskata says they have addressed the energy problem in the distillation by using membrane technology. The claim is that it takes half the energy of distillation. This is somewhat hard to believe, as I would expect ethanol plants across the country to rush to adopt the technology. And it isn’t brand new. Here is a 2001 article talking up the benefits: Pervaporation comes to age.

Yet there have been numerous ethanol plants built since 2001. Why aren’t they being built with membrane separation technology? Without going in and checking their claims, I can’t say for a fact whether that claim of lower energy usage is valid. But there are question marks all around it. (Note: I don’t dispute the technology, because I know that it works. I would just make sure – if I were about to invest in Coskata – that I had a very close look at their claims around this area.)

Finally, what of their claims that they get “up to 7.7 times more energy than what is used in making the ethanol.” In my conversation with Wes, I had asked if this was from Michael Wang. He said yes, which then put that claim into context for me. Michael Wang has created a model that has been widely misused. The number above – 7.7 – will refer not to the energy that is used in the process but rather to the overall fossil energy used. This is the same way Brazilian sugarcane can claim an 8/1 energy return, despite the energy intensive process step of separating ethanol from water. This is a valid metric as long as the context is clear. But the context isn’t usually made clear.

Here is an illustration of the potential problems with the metric. Let’s take an extreme example, as I think they are very useful in illustrating concepts. Let’s say that I have a million BTUs of biomass. But let’s say I have a conversion process that is terribly inefficient. I use that biomass in an inefficient process to produce a trifling amount of liquid fuel: 100 BTUs. In the process, 999,900 BTUs – 99.99% of what we started with – are lost in the process because they are used to drive the process.

But let’s say I have to input a small amount of fossil fuels; say in the form of electricity to run a pump. If I used 13 BTUs of fossil fuel to produce the 100 BTUs, then the energy return based on Wang’s metric is 100/13, or 7.7. So, I could claim to have a high energy return despite the fact that almost all of the available BTUs are wasted. This is the ‘opportunity cost‘ of those BTUs. Had we used the starting biomass to produce electricity, for instance, we would have had far more BTUs at the end of the process.

Now I am not for a moment suggesting that Coskata loses most of their BTUs in the process of making their ethanol. But without a real energy accounting – which the 7.7 number is not – it is difficult to determine whether this process makes better use of the available BTUs than a competing process. A proper energy accounting should take into account the overall BTUs consumed in the process, and not just the fossil fuel usage.

Logistics

David Henson, President of Choren USA (another company involved in biomass gasification), once commented to me “You know, most people just don’t understand that biomass isn’t very energy dense.” David was absolutely correct, but what does that mean? The lower the energy density of a substance, the closer it needs to be to the factory. Imagine hauling potatoes from New York to California in order to convert them into ethanol, and you get the picture. You would certainly burn more fuel transporting the potatoes than you could make from processing them into ethanol.

I believe this issue of low biomass density, which I have referred to as the logistics problem of cellulosic ethanol, is a killer for cellulosic ethanol. In fact, I recently calculated that to keep a medium-sized cellulosic ethanol plant running would consume the biomass equivalent of almost 900,000 mature Douglas firs every single year.

However, the Coskata process is not a cellulosic ethanol process. I don’t consider any gasification process to be cellulosic (I explained why here). The consequence is that a gasification process can have a higher yield because it converts lignin and hemicellulose in addition to cellulose. In Coskata’s case, they promise 100 gallons (+) per ton. How much biomass then to run a 100 million gallon per year facility? A million tons per year. How much biomass is this? If we return to the Douglas fir example, it is the biomass equivalent of around 1.2 million mature Douglas firs per year.

That’s still hard to wrap my head around, but I can put that in context from my current job. In our wood acetylation plant in the Netherlands, our nameplate capacity is 30,000 cubic meters of wood per year. A cubic meter weighs half a metric ton, so we run 15,000 metric tons per year through our plant (about 17,000 short tons). Coskata proposes to process about 60 times as much biomass through their 100 million gallon per year facility. That is the sort of logistical challenge that boggles my mind, when I try to scale up our process by a factor of 60.

To put in the context of rail cars, the coal cars lined up outside of a coal-fired power plant are a familiar site. According to this, each car carries about 100 tons of coal. For a million tons of coal a year, you would have to have 1 million/(100 tons per car) = 10,000 cars per year coming into and leaving the plant. That’s more than a car an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And of course coal is quite a bit denser than biomass, so more cars would be required in the case of biomass.

I won’t say that’s impossible, but it is going to be a significant challenge. All I can say is Coskata better have hired some very good logistical experts. They are going to need them.

Conclusions

So what’s the bottom line? Let’s say you are an investor with a billion dollars burning a hole in your pocket. You contact me and ask if Coskata is for real. I want to see your billion dollars invested wisely, so here is what I would tell you.

The plasma gasification piece and the membrane separation piece both need a very good technical vetting from someone who has signed a secrecy agreement and has access to the experimental data. Whether a technology works in the lab is one thing. After all, if I can kill cancer cells in the lab, have I cured cancer?

You need to know to what extent it works in conditions close to what Coskata is proposing. Has it been tested under these conditions? For how long? What were the results? What were the key challenges? How accurately were the energy inputs measured? In fact, I would probably want to park myself in their labs for a few days, and spend a lot of time talking to technicians. I would want to know – outside of the tours – what’s really going on.

Second, I would really focus in on the logistics issue. I would want some serious details on how they are proposing to handle the logistics. How is the biomass going to come into the plant? Has a calculation been done on how far away something can be transported before it becomes break even on the energy? If it is waste biomass already coming into a point source, then it isn’t as big an issue. But then I would ask if there is any location in the U.S. that is handling a million tons of waste biomass at a point source (which the gasification plant would be). I would want to see actual examples of someone handling this much biomass.

Finally, I would go over that $400 million capital estimate with a fine-toothed comb. I would ask for an example of any technology that has been piloted in the lab, and then had an accurate capital estimate done at a scale of tens of thousands of times larger than the lab scale. As I have said before, you have different problems at a pilot scale than you had at the lab scale, and the problems become even bigger at commercial scale. The capital estimate is already $400 million for a 100 million gallon per year plant – $61,000 per daily barrel. That puts it at a disadvantage to GTL or corn ethanol. Why wouldn’t I expect that capital estimate to climb as they gain piloting experience? Why would I expect them to stick with biomass, when the logistics of gasifying (partially oxidizing) natural gas are trivial when contrasted with biomass logistics?

At least that’s what I would do. But then again, I am notoriously frugal with money, and perpetually skeptical on top of that. If you are a gambler, then you may want to adopt a different strategy.

Note: As always, if you spot an error, let me know and I will gladly correct it.

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August 25, 2008 - Posted by | Coskata

24 Comments

  1. But without a real energy accounting – which the 7.7 number is not – This is unfair. No single number can answer all questions (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy notwithstanding). The 7.7 number does come from “real energy accounting”. A 7.7 process (e.g. sugarcane ethanol in Brazil) can truly displace fossil fuels, while a 1.2 process (e.g. corn ethanol) is really just a fossil fuel laundering scheme.EROEI does not address feedstock supply/economics. POET’s Emmettsburg plant may boost corn ethanol EROEI into the 7 range by burning cob instead of natural gas. But we use 1/3rd of our corn crop to displace 2-3% of our oil consumption. Even at high EROEI corn ethanol simply cannot scale enough to meaningfully address our oil problem.At 7.7 EROEI from generic biomass Coskata truly displaces oil and they can scale to meaningful levels. DOE says we can sustainably harvest 1.2 billion tons of biomass per year, yielding 120 billion gpy of Coskata ethanol. That’s a meaningful bite out of our 300 billion gpy oil consumption. Whether Coskata can actually deliver and be cost-competitive is a whole ‘nother question, of course. A lower EROEI process which extracts more useful energy per ton of biomass or uses a different, cheaper feedstock could easily beat Coskata.

    Comment by doggydogworld | August 25, 2008

  2. The 7.7 number does come from “real energy accounting”. A 7.7 process (e.g. sugarcane ethanol in Brazil) can truly displace fossil fuelsNo, the question is not whether a 7.7 process can displace fossil fuels. The question is whether this is useful information without context of overall energy efficiency. This is not an energy efficiency, yet it masquerades as one. This is why I object to this usage of Wang’s metric. If you look at my example, you see that we could have a horribly inefficient process and complete waste of 99.99% of our initial BTUs, yet still claim a 7.7 energy return.In fact, I can pit 1.2 against 7.7 and show the 1.2 coming out on top. To do so, once again envision the example that I showed above. Now envision for the 1.2 an extremely efficient conversion of BTUs. You will net more BTUs per starting BTU in the case of an efficient 1.2 process than an inefficient 7.7 process.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 25, 2008

  3. What does a doug fir weigh? Of course, this would depend on size. I suspect more than one ton.Another reference: If you grow eucalyptus in Thailand, you can expect to yield about 30 tons per “rai,” or half-care, per every five years. (I am doing this now, through my wife)Okay, call it 60 tons per acre per five years, or 12.5 tons per acre per year.If you need 100 million tons of trees a year, you will have to plant about 80,000 acres.There are 640 acres in a square mile.So, you need to plant about 125 square miles of eucalyptus forest. For one Coskata plant for one year.An 11 mile by 11 mile tract. And you get 100 millions gallons a year, which you could sell for, say, $200 million.Your gross would be $2,500 per year. That souns okay. I don’t know what the net would be. In Thailand, you are lucky to net $200 a year, per acre, for eucalyptus farming.It seems feasible, but not really widely replicable due to the amount of land needed. It might make sense in Thailand. It strikes me as a war-time type of solution.As a amateur, I share RR’s primary concern: There just isn’t enough “oomph,” or calories or energy content in biomass. You could just burn the biomass, and fire steam generators. With the GM Volt and other cars, this makes more sense to me. Our need for liquid fuel would radically decrease with a switch to GM Volt type cars — and our electrical grid is already in place. With the advent of GM Volt type cars, it is likely our need for liquid fuel will decline for decades in a row, going forward. As a nation, through gasoline taxes, we could easily achieve declining liquid fuel demand for a string of decades. But I admire Coskata for taking a whack at it. I think they need to consider ethanol plants in Thailand. Huge swatchs of land needs reforesting. A side note: Back in the Civil War, pine trees were somehow processed for liquid fuel.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | August 25, 2008

  4. What does a doug fir weigh? Of course, this would depend on size. I suspect more than one ton.Another reference: If you grow eucalyptus in Thailand, you can expect to yield about 30 tons per “rai,” or half-care, per every five years. (I am doing this now, through my wife)Okay, call it 60 tons per acre per five years, or 12.5 tons per acre per year.If you need 100 million tons of trees a year, you will have to plant about 80,000 acres.There are 640 acres in a square mile.So, you need to plant about 125 square miles of eucalyptus forest. For one Coskata plant for one year.An 11 mile by 11 mile tract. And you get 100 millions gallons a year, which you could sell for, say, $200 million.Your gross would be $2,500 per year. That souns okay. I don’t know what the net would be. In Thailand, you are lucky to net $200 a year, per acre, for eucalyptus farming.It seems feasible, but not really widely replicable due to the amount of land needed. It might make sense in Thailand. It strikes me as a war-time type of solution.As a amateur, I share RR’s primary concern: There just isn’t enough “oomph,” or calories or energy content in biomass. You could just burn the biomass, and fire steam generators. With the GM Volt and other cars, this makes more sense to me. Our need for liquid fuel would radically decrease with a switch to GM Volt type cars — and our electrical grid is already in place. With the advent of GM Volt type cars, it is likely our need for liquid fuel will decline for decades in a row, going forward. As a nation, through gasoline taxes, we could easily achieve declining liquid fuel demand for a string of decades. But I admire Coskata for taking a whack at it. I think they need to consider ethanol plants in Thailand. Huge swatchs of land needs reforesting. A side note: Back in the Civil War, pine trees were somehow processed for liquid fuel.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | August 25, 2008

  5. I meant to write your gross would be $2,500 per acre, per year. That sounds okay

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | August 25, 2008

  6. Robert:The low energy density is yet one more problem with biomass. Net primary productivity and low solar efficiency make biomass at best a small player in meeting present energy consumption. Unfortunately the hype that goes along with it give people a false hope that biomass will rescue us without having to dramatically decrease energy consumption.

    Comment by Jerry Unruh | August 25, 2008

  7. One minor objection to the doug-fir business, from one skeptic to another: A “mature” douglas fir evokes a rather different image than an “average” douglas fir. The gentleman from Oregon (follow the links) cited an average doug-fir as being 1660 lb, 12″ diameter at breast height and around 90′ high, essentially the sort of tree whose base you might use for a telephone pole. That may well be the average size at which they are harvested, but left to mature, these trees can turn into real monsters, which is what I envision when I hear “mature”. Drawing from Wikipedia, record-class doug-firs can achieve sizes (by volume) up to 250 times as large as the average tree cited.

    Comment by Chris St.Clair | August 25, 2008

  8. Whatever the energy accounting,this may be a nice solution for the lack of landfill space. Garbage trucks need lots of fuel and people PAY to dispose of biomass. Comapanies in the New Orleans area pay $40 per ton to bury wood at the landfill. Every felled tree for 50 miles around is wasted. Ditto for tires and everything else that can’t be recycled. I think they’ll do well in the licensing area if the process works.

    Comment by Maury | August 25, 2008

  9. Interesting thread and analysis of Coskata’s proposed process. I am not a chemist of any kind, but I’d like to throw this out. The answer to my question is probably trivial and obvious, but here goes. I used to do a little homebrewing, the finished product maybe 5% alcohol in (hopefully) nicely flavored water. A method described to create a non-alcoholic brew was at the completion of fermentation, increase the temperature of the beer to just under water’s boiling point. Alcohol’s boiling point is slightly lower and would therefore boil off leaving the desired non-alcoholic beer behind. In this case the unwanted component was removed from the mix and discarded. In Coskata’s case, the alcohol vapors would be captured and condensed. So getting to the actual question, would the 96.5% volume of water actually need to be evaporated (at great energy expense) to get our hands on the 3.5% ethanol?

    Comment by petep44 | August 25, 2008

  10. Alcohol’s boiling point is slightly lower and would therefore boil off leaving the desired non-alcoholic beer behind.It doesn’t work like that. What happens is that a mixture of water and ethanol boils off that is just slightly more concentrated in ethanol than the liquid it came out of. The ethanol won’t start boiling off at it’s normal boiling point when it is in solution. In a distillation column, vaporization and condensation is repeated on tray after tray (or on theoretical stages in packing) so that the alcohol is gradually concentrated up. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 25, 2008

  11. I just got an e-mail from someone commenting on this thread. Let’s just say that this person knows an awful lot about gasification. Here is what he had to say:My take on it is the containment of the very high operating temps are a challenge. Add to that a widely varying feedstock, such as MSW, and most of the [plasma gasification] plants are doomed to fail, or have a miserable existence. Try adding a bit of operating pressure to it (lets not forget that incinerators usually run underpressure, so there is a wide range of ‘simple’ technologies to handle feed and effluents. Once you try and go to overpresure situations, this all gets a lot harder. And if you are processing ‘raw’ biomass, its also important to consider – the plasma is just the same as the entrained flow section of our gasifier – you need to have a defined and uniform particle size (= residence time in the hot zone) or else you will end up with tars and ash at some point downstream.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 25, 2008

  12. The problem with pervaporation membranes is that they remove the water from the broth, not the alcohol, so you still end up with this broth that needs to be distilled, or al least filtered. It seems like the best way to do it would be to run the broth through a few plates of the still to remove the solids, and then suck the water out with the membrane. The advantage of the membrane is you can get 100% alcohol. The membrane doesn’t have the problem with the water/alcohol azeotrope. The efficiency of the membrane increases with temperature, so heating the broth in a still seems like a good way to go.

    Comment by Anonymous | August 25, 2008

  13. I can pit 1.2 against 7.7 and show the 1.2 coming out on top.And I can show examples where lower “overall energy efficiency” comes out on top.Consider a process which uses 100k BTU of oil and 100k BTU of biomass to produce 100k BTU of liquid fuel. Your overall energy efficiency metric comes out to 50%, but the process is useless. You gain nothing over simply burning the original oil.Now consider a 33% efficient process: an autonomous, self-fueling forest/prairie/cropland rover which scavenges excess biomass and produces 1 BTU of liquid fuel net output for every 3 BTUs of biomass. This device is vastly superior to the useless 50% process described above.Come to think of it, your overall energy efficiency metric tells me almost nothing by itself. EROEI tells us if an alternative actually displaces fossil fuel. Feedstock analysis (gallons per ton, or per acre) tells us if the process can scale. Your overall energy efficiency metric is one part of the feedstock analysis, but by itself not all that meaningful.

    Comment by doggydogworld | August 25, 2008

  14. Your overall energy efficiency metric is one part of the feedstock analysis, but by itself not all that meaningful.Which was my point: You need both. I was not suggesting that you only need efficiency, but that Wang’s metric – which isn’t even an EROEI by the way – tells you nothing about whether a process is energy efficient. If you do a proper EROEI – that is you are counting the energy actually consumed in the process – then that goes much further than Wang’s fossil fuel only metric.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 25, 2008

  15. Would the gassification process be more productive if the syngas were input into a hydrocarbon synthesis process?

    Comment by Fat Man | August 26, 2008

  16. Would the gassification process be more productive if the syngas were input into a hydrocarbon synthesis process?Absolutely. That’s why I am not a fan of these syngas to aqueous systems. If you have good syngas, do a gas-phase reaction to something like methanol. I understand the reasoning for not wanting to do that; it involves compression. But putting the syngas in water requires an even more energy intesive step in the form of distillation (if the ethanol concentration is low in the fermentation broth).RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 26, 2008

  17. The following is likely pretty simplistic thinking on my part but -It seems to me that the object of a plant species is to create more of that plant life in space and across time, sort of the selfish gene theory for plants. If so, then there must be an optimal amount of energy per plant. Put too much or too little into one plant, species fitness is reduced over area and across seasons. Energy is limiting so the plant partitions it for the same goals, the optimal amount into “operations”, structure and propagation by seeds or whatever. Too much in one thing and the species isn’t as resilient (is out competed by competitors, doesn’t survive under certain events in its environment, like weather shocks, or some “predator” takes advantage of it, predators being herbivores of all shapes and sizes) and those genes are in essence discarded. There are likely some underlying biological laws of optimums underlying this somewhere that are probably discussed in the literature somewhere. Systems, systems.I suspect that the problem for humans is that these optimum plant energy investment laws run counter to what humans need to do, which is acquire concentrated energy in biomass and convert it to their useful form, meaning that as a result humans can’t easily (high EROEI) get a lot of energy out of biomass. Otherwise, something in “Mother Nature” somehow would have already exploited it and the plants have already adapted accordingly. I (naively) predict that as a consequence of these underlying principles the indirect route through biomass to a useful energy form isn’t going to pay off compared to direct conversion from the direct solar source. Therefore, I’d invest my hard earned monies accordingly. FWIW.

    Comment by Anonymous | August 26, 2008

  18. About the logistics.There is a sawmill in British Columbia that cuts 1 million board feet of lumber a day. It ends up cutting about 350 million board feet per year. Its recovery is about 180 bf/cubic meter. That works out to 1,944,444 cubic meters per year at one plant. I think the logistics are doable, but what I would be more concerned with are the economics of moving that much biomass. Sawmills have lower capital costs and produce products that have much higher value than ethanol.

    Comment by Jake | August 26, 2008

  19. In Thailand, pulp mills pay about 1400 baht per delivered ton of eucalyptus. About $45. Coskata says they can make 100 gallons of ethanol from that, which they can perhaps wholesale at $200. That’s about quadruple their feedstock price. Seems like a go.If their plant works, they could set one up in Thailand. People will deliver eucalyptus at $45 a ton all day long. Thailand has ungodly square miles of hillside where teak used to grow, and which could be planted with eucalyptus.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | August 26, 2008

  20. Sawmills ….. produce products that have much higher value than ethanol.Really? North American lumber was around $200 per thousand board feet a couple months ago, which comes out to a bit over 30 cents/gallon. Of course a gallon of wood has less mass than a gallon of ethanol, but still it’s hard to see how lumber have “much higher” value than ethanol.Also, Coskata would presumably use cheap wood waste and such insted of expensive whole logs, helping economics somewhat.

    Comment by doggydogworld | August 26, 2008

  21. There is a sawmill in British Columbia that cuts 1 million board feet of lumber a day.Jake, can you provide some details on this sawmill? Who is doing this? Do the logs come in and out by truck? Rail? Barge?I only calculate 826,000 cubic meters from 350 million board feet. Are you saying that they have to process 1.94 million cubes to get 350 million board feet?I would point out some significant differences, though. The density of wood chips – and various biomass for that matter – can be significantly less than that of bulk wood, which would increase the number of cars to transport the biomass. Further, a board is easy to handle (and well-established) versus running ground biomass through a gasifier. A saw can rip through a board, essentially running it through the process with most of the bulk ‘along for the ride.’ In Coskata’s process, 100% of the biomass is going to be gasified, and on an unprecedented scale. Envision something that turns that million board feet a day completely into sawdust, and then burns it and I think you have a better picture. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 26, 2008

  22. This seems to confirm my feeling that no matter how good a process one might invent, feedstock is going to be the real problem. First, will that much feedstock always be available, and at low enough a price? That is one heck of a lot of biomass! And second is the matter of logistics. If wood is used, that eliminates the cultivation costs involved in growing crops such as corn, but the operation still needs lots of oil for harvesting (to power the machinery for felling and yarding), and for trucks. Then I assume that some kind of diesel-powered machinery is used to chip and grind the timber.As a corollary, there is the catch-22 problem of oil price and biofuel profitability, which doesn’t appear to be addressed very much. Specifically, we are going nuts with biofuels because oil is expensive. The more expensive it is, the more attractive biofuels become, but since oil is an essential input, that also raises the costs of biofuel producers. On the other hand, when oil falls in price, as it has recently, that lowers biofuel producers’ costs, but also makes biofuels less attractive (in other words, if you have a choice between ethanol and reasonably priced gasoline, which are you going to fill up with? Gasoline will win hands down). I wonder how biofuel proponents see this relationship.

    Comment by Rice Farmer | August 28, 2008

  23. since oil is an essential inputNot really. The studies put oil as a small input for corn ethanol. I think it’d be even less for cellulosic, since higher yield per acre should translate to lower transport energy.The big jump in corn price is mostly due to global supply/demand (2007 US corn exports set a new record) and ethanol sucking up 33% of the crop. Actually it’s more like 25% after DDGS, but that’s still a lot of supply to remove from the market.Come to think of it, I’d say none of the corn price spike was due to oil. Energy costs only feed into corn pricing if farmers pull marginal acreage off the market because high energy cost makes that acreage unprofitable. The exact opposite has been happening.

    Comment by doggydogworld | August 28, 2008

  24. Coskata, yet another example of a company born out of the frustration of the global oil crisis. While there are players which are note-worthy – Coskata, in all respect, fails to be one.As a mere human, we must challenge all statements that are made in regards to the claims we are presented with – especially the ones which beg for money. Coskata has novel technology born out of the reactors in the University of Oklahoma. Look into the publications that were written by what Coskata guards as it’s intellectual property. Coskata has tried it’s utmost to present the world with a view contending that the technology from Oklahoma has been improved to the extent that they can produce Ethanol for relatively cheap. Sadly, the figures that we are presented with are–to say the least–out of this world. At the production rate that Coskata is contending for the production of Ethanol – the most robust and resilient microbes would, simply, die. Yeasts cannot produce ethanol at such high concentrations. Moreso – one should inquire into what the founder of this technology has to say about Coskata’s claims.Before you invest, before you believe the hype; ask the hard questions. Instead of asking the public relations secretary – ask a true scientist that has worked with these microbes. I’m an optimist by nature – but I can push my optimism so far and I still have a hard time believing the claims of this scam.

    Comment by Aristos Kalamanies | January 11, 2009


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