The points for this post are a look at the investors and the biofuel technology. Big Oil is very interested with some serious money now loaded into CoolPlanet. At the end of last year British Petroleum and ConocoPhillips joined with General Electric and Google Ventures in a financing round. That is significant news.
It seems from reviewing the personnel on the CoolPlanet Advisory Board that big oil was connected early. There’s an impressive list of five scientists whose careers connected to companies like DuPont, Shell, Chevron, and Mobil, now part of ExxonMobil. One notes that these firms are so far, not listed as investors. But two unrelated major oil firms are involved. This is curious, but not surprising. As progress in made and investment information is less personal relationship based and more factual and financial oriented more investors are sure to join in. There are two major independent oil companies involved and three more at the sideline.
The technology comes for the innovation and ingenuity of Mike Cheiky. Cheiky is a trained physicist with 40 issued patents and more pending, enjoys citations in 350 other patents and has numerous awards. This fellow has quite a creative and insightful mind.
The CoolPlanet technology is to make synthetic hydrocarbon fuels based on biomass from plant photosynthesis that absorbs carbon from the air. The technology can make exact replacements for gasoline that will operate in the current gasoline fueled fleet and can make even more advanced “superfuels” for even higher gas mileage and better performance in future vehicles.
Simply, the firm’s biomass fractionator technology extracts useful hydrocarbons from biomass, leaving behind the excess carbon as a high purity solid. The solid remainder is activated carbon with a very high surface area that will allow it to be used as a soil enhancer similar to “terra preta”. Incorporating the carbon in an appropriate manner back to the soil will greatly enhance soil fertility while sequestering carbon for hundreds of years. It should return the elemental fertility of potassium and phosphorus to the soil. The nitrogen component and the fuel part of the carbon recycles through the atmosphere.
Cheiky’s idea is a revolutionary thermal/mechanical processor that directly inputs raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residue, algae, etc. and produces multiple distinct gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional fuel components. Through the process steps, the CoolPlanet webite implies there are three production steps yielding fuel product precursors. It seems the modular design of these segments of biomass treatment are pretty well ironed out.
To use the precursor products the company is developing a range of simple one-step catalytic conversion processes to produce useful products such as eBTX (high octane gasoline), synthetic diesel and proprietary ultra-high crop yield super fuels.
The modular design seeks to answer the biomass bulk problem. Biomass comes in huge volumes, light in weight and difficult to economically transport. CoolPlanet plans to package its proprietary biomass fractionator together with an “open architecture” chemical processing section in standard modular shipping containers that can each produce up to 2 million gallons of fuel per year. Its just common sense to move the plant with a few trucks to the biomass instead of hundreds or thousands of trucks filled with biomass to the processor. That way the long distance shipping would be the concentrated fuel products. It’s just smart forethought.
Cheiky is taking advantage of the situation and using the engineering to add to sustainability. Biomass isn’t particularly rich in hydrogen, which is essential in producing hydrocarbons. That leaves a residue of excess carbon that also holds the soil’s fertility contribution to the feedstock. Returning the element rich carbon would build soil carbon content and eventually build up a “black soil” so desired by crop growers worldwide. The shortsighted “sequestration” idea plays to the hysterical atmospheric carbon fears, but returning carbon with the fertility would cut production costs and over time improve the production yields.
The yields projected in the press release are quite impressive. Using giant miscanthus CoolPlanet suggests that 4,000 gallons of fuel per acre is possible. That’s a huge jump up from corn ethanol, perhaps as much 12 times more. Roughly figured, today corn ethanol from about 40% of the U.S. corn crop will provide over 10% of the U.S. gasoline volume plus some export. Twelve times that, and at much closer to the BTU value of gasoline, would displace the whole U.S. gasoline market and considerably more.
Cheiky understands the projection is based on optimal crop growth. Even cut by a quarter or even half the results are nearly incredible. And this is based on miscanthus, an annual harvest. Paired up to algae or macro algae harvesting year around, the rates would go even further up. Wood and trash waste would also be constant stream.
One has to think, Cheiky and his CoolPlanet has the legs to get started. The press release says, “Total energy and biomass feedstock cost using today’s commodity pricing is under 60 cents/gallon.”
That’s why our free independent “Big Oil” companies are in. Your humble writer is glad for it.