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Power Science

Startup Claims to Make $1/Gallon Ethanol 456

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the get-ready-to-fight-the-lobbies dept.
gnick writes to mention Wired is reporting that an Illinois startup is claiming they can make ethanol from most any organic material for around $1/gallon. Coskata, backed by General Motors and several other investors, uses a process that is bacteria based instead of some of the other available methods. The bacteria processes organic material that is fed into the reactor and secretes ethanol as a waste product.
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Startup Claims to Make $1/Gallon Ethanol

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  • by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:20PM (#22189970) Journal

    secretes ethanol as a waste product.

    aaah...reminds me of college.

  • Mr Fusion? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:22PM (#22189986)
    First thought was Marty's "Mr Fusion" on the back of his DeLorean. (Dump in a few banana peels -- 1.21 gigawatts!)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Doc: "Mr. Fusion powers the time circuits and the flux capacitor, but the internal combustion engine runs on ordinary gasoline. It always has. There's not gonna be a gas station around here until sometime in the next century. Without gasoline, we can't get the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour."
  • Whoo hoo! (Score:3, Funny)

    by biased_estimator (1222498) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:23PM (#22189990)
    Moonshine all around, its on me tonight!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:23PM (#22189994)
    The bacteria used in the process only grow in the middle east.
    • by mqduck (232646)

      The bacteria used in the process only grow in the middle east.
      Yeah, what're all OUR fuel sources doing on/under THEIR soil?
  • Great, but (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hellad (691810) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:24PM (#22189998)
    it seems that this is the cost of production, not the cost to the consumer. If we are selling it a buck a gallon from the pump after the inclusion of taxes, then I am interested. Until then, please use my corn for good uses such as the syrup in my Mt. Dew like God intended.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by ximenes (10)
      It says 'most any organic matter'. Maybe they'll use people instead of corn.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Bombula (670389)
      This is an excellent point. As someone whole lived in the middle east for nearly 20 years, I can assure you that the crap in the media about oil production costs is complete nonsense. Production costs per barrel - not per gallon - in Saudi are under 50 cents. All they have to do is turn the taps. And there is enough oil there fore decades. Everything we hear to contrary is nonsense spewed by oil companies and governments who are making out like bandits with oil at $100/barrel.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by T-Bone-T (1048702)
        No one is debating how much oil there is(maybe a little), all I've heard for the last couple years is how the refineries can't refine the oil fast enough. The environmentalists must be rich because they keep trying to shut down any plans to build more refineries to keep up with demand.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bryan Ischo (893)
          Sounds good to me. I'm all for artificially limiting the supply of gasoline to force people to improve their efficiency and seek out alternative fuels. I hope they don't build anymore oil refineries, ever.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by T-Bone-T (1048702)
            There's just one problem with that thinking. It assumes that all oil gets turned into gasoline. It is only one of many products that are all more expensive because of rising oil costs.
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:28PM (#22190028) Journal
    Whatever happened to the conspiracy theorists from my childhood, you know, the ones who always claimed "the car makers and big old buried that 100 mpg carburetor design", and the like!

    I don't know the merits of this particular deal, but it never made sense to me that "car makers" really cared one way or the other about the fuel costs (and the SUV craze has borne that out...)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CajunArson (465943)
      Car makers like to sell.... wait for it..... cars. Despite the Illuminati Trilateral Bush 9/11 conspiracy theories that are popular on Slashdot, GM really doesn't make out that well when oil is expensive and people don't buy their cars. Case in point: Look at the profits oil companies are making right now vs. the insane losses GM is making right now.
      Now unlike the John Edwards types who look at profits as always being "evil" they are instead incredibly useful. GM would not be putting a dim
      • by reboot246 (623534)
        As much as I dislike government mandates, I'd like to see a mandate that all personal autos and trucks sold in the U. S. be capable of using alcohol based fuel. Then in a few years we might possibly see fuels like E85 being sold in more stations. The stuff is almost impossible to find now.
        • by Belial6 (794905)
          As much as I appreciate your goal, you have the wrong answer. If they do that, you can bet that alcohol is going to cost huge amounts of money as well. Your not going to be able to pour beer in the tank after all. And, there is no way that people will be able to produce enough at home (if that would even be legal) to supply the fuel necessary for their car.

          If we are going to have the government mandate a solution, lets just solve the problem once and for all. Have them mandate that the entire car must
    • Put this into the equation: petrol is highly subsidized in the US: nobody in the world (eccept maybe Venezuelans and Nigerians) pay as little for gas as US citizens. So basically, whether you use public transportation, your bicycle or an SUV, you support, with your taxes, the subsidized gas. I'm sure the american car manufacturers wouldn't be able to move as many SUVs as they do today, if americans paid unsubsidized prices for the gas.
      • I'm afraid you have it backwards. Gasoline is not directly subsidized in the US, but it is very heavily taxed in other markets, especially Europe. Now, there ARE subsidies for oil companies, thanks to the lobbyists in Washington, but those are intended strictly to further profits^H^H^H^H^H^H^H research and executive bonuses^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H discovery for the oil companies, NOT to reduce the cost of gasoline. In the US, you can pretty much follow the cost of oil, refinement, tax and profit t
  • wrong metric? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Erpo (237853) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:30PM (#22190038)
    $1/gallon would be great if it were gasoline, but one gallon of ethanol doesn't store the same amount of energy as a gallon of gas.

    How many joules per dollar does that work out to compared to gas?

    Or, even better, how many miles per dollar does that work out to in today's ethanol-powered cars?
    • by MacDork (560499) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:48PM (#22190162) Journal
      According to the gubmint [ornl.gov] So that's $1.48 a gallon of gas. I haven't seen that price on gas in a loooooooong time.
      • by BitterOak (537666)
        But, as has been noted above, that is the cost to produce a gallon of ethanol. By the time it gets to the pump you'll be paying twice that. Is ~$3.00 a gallon really all that attractive?
    • by DieByWire (744043)

      $1/gallon would be great if it were gasoline, but one gallon of ethanol doesn't store the same amount of energy as a gallon of gas. How many joules per dollar does that work out to compared to gas?

      From wikipedia...

      Gasoline - 125000 BTU/gal

      Ethanol - 84600 BTU/gal

      ... or about 67% of the energy content of gasoline. So you could compare it to a claim of $1.50/gallon gasoline.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by jeremiahbell (522050)

        From wikipedia...

        Gasoline - 125000 BTU/gal

        Ethanol - 84600 BTU/gal

        ... or about 67% of the energy content of gasoline. So you could compare it to a claim of $1.50/gallon gasoline.

        Pure ethanol can offset the smaller BTU with more efficient combustion. An alcohol engine be ran safely at 12-14 to 1 compression raising efficiency whereas gasoline's upper limit is 10 to 1 in a production vehicle that has to be warrantied.
        • by DieByWire (744043)

          Pure ethanol can offset the smaller BTU with more efficient combustion. An alcohol engine be ran safely at 12-14 to 1 compression raising efficiency whereas gasoline's upper limit is 10 to 1 in a production vehicle that has to be warrantied.

          I didn't know that.

          Do any of the flex fuel cars vary valve timing or use some other trick to raise compression? Or are they stuck with the pure gasoline compression ratio?

      • by XorNand (517466) *
        Not to mention that $1.00 is the cost to the producer (as mentioned downthread), not the consumer. According to the State or Oregon, it currently costs $1.10 to make a gallon of corn-based ethanol [oregon.gov]. Suddenly I am underwhelmed. :-\
    • $1/gallon would be great if it were gasoline, but one gallon of ethanol doesn't store the same amount of energy as a gallon of gas.

      How many joules per dollar does that work out to compared to gas?

      Or, even better, how many miles per dollar does that work out to in today's ethanol-powered cars?

      E85=83263 BTUs
      gasoline=114000 BTUs
      So 73%

      Chevrolet Silverado 4WD FlexFuel (5000lb pickup truck) MPG, from fueleconomy.gov:

      Gas
      city 14
      hwy 19
      annual fuel cost: $2878

      E85
      city 11
      hwy 14
      annual fuel cost: $2999

      I think that'll make a difference. Heck even if it's the same price, it's less greenhouse gas, more stability, and less (or no) dependence on you-know-where for our fuel.

      • by T-Bone-T (1048702)
        Hmm...I wonder why no one really wants to actually use E85. You get worse mileage and spend even more on fuel. Who wants that?
      • by Firethorn (177587)
        A critical question here would be how many city/highway miles and what fueleconomy.gov is assuming for gasoline vs E85 prices...

        Digging into the website, that seems to be $3.07 for gasoline and $2.40 for ethanol.

        At those prices, it would be 937.5 gallons of gas, 1249.6 E85.

        Figuring on 16.5 combined mpg for gasoline, that's about 15.5k miles for gas, 12.5 for E85 gives 15.6k miles.

        Close enough to me. So if E85 drops to $2/gallon and Gasoline rises to $3.50, it'd flip and E85 would become substantially cheap
    • by bigdavex (155746)
      Here's a comment that answers that question.

      http://wwia.org/sgroup/biofuel/42730/1 [wwia.org]

      Apparently ethanol has 68% of the energy content of gasoline by volume
      (8.9x10^7 J/gal vs. 1.3x10^8 J/gal). Therefore gasoline has 146% of the
      energy content of ethanol by volume. This translates to 1 liter of gasoline
      = 1.46 liters of ethanol. 46% more ethanol to equal a volume of gasoline.
    • by Nick Driver (238034) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:39PM (#22190450)
      Ethanol [wikipedia.org] has about 84K BTU/gallon of energy for use in a piston engine. Butanol [wikipedia.org] has about 110K BTU/gallon, compared to an average of 115K BTU/gallon for unleaded gasoline. Butanol also does not absorb water out of the air like ethanol does readily. Butanol can be made by via bacteria fermentation of biomass similar to like ethanol can. Butanol does have a problem with not vaporizing good enough for cold starts in very low temperatures, but that could be overcome with electric heater incorporated in a vehicle's fuel injector system for operation in cold weather.
  • Which lobbies, precisely?
  • Besides cutting production costs to fire sale prices, the process avoids some key drawbacks of making ethanol from corn, company officials said. It wouldn't impact the food supply, and its net energy balance is high because the technique works almost anywhere using almost anything with great efficiency.

    If it can do all that, then lets go for it. I always had reservations about corn ethanol's impact on the food supply and prices, but by using the garbage/waste products they describe, that problem goes away. Corn is central to our food economy, from sweetener (corn syrup) to feed for livestock. Little price hikes due to burning corn in our cars means bigger price hikes in so much of the rest of the food we buy. Let take ideas like these and stop burning usable food in our cars.

  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:38PM (#22190106) Homepage Journal

    process that is bacteria based instead of some of the other available methods. The bacteria processes organic material that is fed into the reactor and secretes ethanol as a waste product.
    The Illinois startup patentd "a process for using bacteria to transform something into stuff" and promptly sued everyone in posession of compost.
    "Hey, since they beat us to the smartphone, the only thing we could do in response was test the outer limits of stupidity," said Joey, the CIO.
    Time could be running out for ambitious entremanures wanting to cash in on the USPTO, however, Joey continued:
    "The USPTO asked us a question, which was 'What time is it?' They hadn't ever asked any questions previously. We fear that this question could herald an unprecedented era of consciousness at the USPTO."
  • by codepunk (167897) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:40PM (#22190112)
    Thats right keep dropping production to drive the oil prices up. That will work
    for a while yet, but now everyone is gunning for them. They drove the oil prices
    up too high creating the incentives to start driving innovation to help eliminate
    them from our lives.
    • I hope you don't get modded troll since it's true.

      Of course this is being done to keep prices down so more cars can be sold or to shift money to different players.

      The OPEC's actions has made this more widely embraced then any eviromental benifits have.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You don't get the feeling they're waiting for a critical point and then planning to release oil faster than ever for another 5 years, bankrupting everyone who invested in alternative energy, before lowering production again and repeating the cycle?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      ...but now everyone is gunning for them.

      You must be new around here.

      We've been gunning for them since 1974.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:00PM (#22190240) Homepage Journal

    "inthishouseweobeythelawsofthermodynamics" is cute when someone's bragging about their perpetual motion machine. It makes you look ignorant when the story is about someone converting one form of energy to another in an incrementally more efficient way than before. News flash: it's obvious that current production methods can be improved upon. What part of that smacks of breaking the laws of physics?

  • Brazilian Ethanol (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gustgr (695173)
    Here in Brazil I've seen Ethanol being sold by $0.35/liter (~ $1.32/gallon) to the final consumer. I guess the ethanol industries can produce it by far less than $1/gallon. Here about 80% of our fleet of automobiles are powered by Ethanol (including my car), which is produced using sugar cane.

    Nevertheless, the mass cultivation of sugar cane is destroying several other agricultures, mainly in Brazil's South and Southeast regions, besides the fact that the producers and farmers usually burn the unused bagasse
    • by jmauro (32523)
      Subsidies may account for much of the price. At least it does in the United States, where it may only cost the end consumer $2-$3 dollars/gallon, but costs every taxpayer $2-$3 dollars/gallon on top of that price. I blame Iowa, but that's just me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rrkap (634128)
      Sugarcane is just about the perfect crop if you want to make ethanol. Unfortunately for those of us in the U.S. there are few places here that can grow sugarcane and fewer still that can do so economically (hence the U.S.'s high taxes on imported sugar and our use of high fructose corn syrup as a substitute). Our inability to produce sugarcane has led both to our current corn based ethanol production and to huge investments in research into methods of making ethanol from other feedstocks that are cheaper
  • We can already turn everything based on carbon molecules into petroleum. [changingworldtech.com]

    Why are we wasting our time and wasting food and alcohol?
  • I see the process uses Synthesis Gas (Syngas) as an intermediate, which is has long been produced on a bulk scale for industrial use (so it has been fairly well optimized for cost-efficiency) -- mostly from either coal or municipal waste. While various eco-friendly sources may make for good press and grant money, I would expect any widescale adoption of this technology to eventually migrate to the cheapest available syngas source.

    Since Syngas production is a fairly mature technology, whether or not this be
  • This sounds like it is the real deal. They'll have a pilot plant running next year. If things really fall into place, we'll see commercial plants by 2011 (a safer bet is 2015).

    That means that I can buy the Jeep instead of the Rabbit, and I won't have to worry about fuel costs down the road. Now I just have to wait for the flex-fuel JEEP Wrangler to come out (the Cherokee and the Commander are flex-fuel, so it's only a matter of time, right?)

    P.S. You should really RTFA on this one. When I read the headl
  • by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:21PM (#22190358) Journal
    I know some good ol' boys in Eastern Tennessee who make ethanol from corn mash for less than $1 a gallon. Been doin' it for decades.
  • by Bryan Ischo (893) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:31PM (#22190410) Homepage
    From TA:

    "Even if you produce it county by county, you still need an infrastructure," he said. "People aren't going to go to some remote location for fuel."

    This has not been my experience. I have met countless stupid people who will drive 20 miles to save 2 cents per gallon on gas. People would probably drive 50 miles to save 5 cents per gallon of gas.

    If this stuff was sufficiently cheap, I'll bet there are people who would drive for hours just to fill up and save themselves $20 at the pump.

  • The push for ethanol is part of this whole green wacko thing, and as with most of the other plans currently being implemented, will eventually hurt us. The demand for crops to fuel ethanol manufacturing is already driving up the price of food. Now we have to compete with our cars for food! What good is it to be able to drive cheaply to the store if you can't afford to buy any food once you get there?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by calebt3 (1098475)
      Someone didn't read the comments. This process uses the corn husks and stalks rather than the ears themselves. Waste matter. No competition for food.
  • by GreatDrok (684119) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:41PM (#22190460) Journal
    Don't expect the price of any petrol replacement to be any less than petrol if widely deployed.

    One of the reasons for the high taxes in the UK for fuel is that they want to keep traffic numbers down. Pushing the price up should discourage people from driving so much in theory. Of course, the government just becomes dependent on the taxes and so will want a big cut of any other fuel source. Certainly, in the UK if you drive a diesel fueled by used cooking oil, a waste product which would normally be dumped, the government expect you to pay tax on it. The justification is that the tax is used to maintain the roads although that is supposed to be what the road tax is for. Anyway, it is currently cheaper to use vegetable oil and pay the tax than to use fossil diesel but if it gets more popular to use such biofuels the price differential will go away. Sure, they will be largely carbon neutral but the government will still want the same amount of income from fuel sales, they're addicted. I think the US drivers will have to get used to similar things. Accept it, whether the fuel is from fossil or modern sources, the price is going to remain high. You'll never see $1 per gallon again.
  • by heroine (1220) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:06AM (#22190574) Homepage
    Still waiting for the $1/watt solar panels from last week. Would even take the silicon nanotube batteries from the week before.

  • by gsgriffin (1195771) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:43AM (#22191392)
    So what we are all excited about is that we might be able to run our country on crap coming from single-cell, brainless, parasitic, life-forms... Isn't that by exactly how we have been running this country for 200 years. It's not called Ethanol. Its called Congress.
  • by Rinisari (521266) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:50PM (#22194832) Homepage Journal
    Ethanol is still not an alternative fuel. It's a supplemental alternative fuel. There's not enough corn grown in the US to switch entirely to it. Heck, there's not enough land in the US even to grow enough corn to satisfy our needs.

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