April 25, 2008

Coskata to build demonstration plant near Pittsburgh

Coskata announced today that they are building a demonstration-sized (40,000 gallon per year) cellulosic ethanol plant. This is significant because it could represent the first scale-up of a syngas-fermentation (SF) pilot technology in the world.

The other possible scale-up of this advanced technology is the BRI process that is a party to the ALICO project - a DOE EPAact grant winner of last year. That project is still awaiting licensing resolution among the parties that submitted the original proposal.

Ethanol is almost always seen as a process involving the fermentation of sugars into alcohol. Most of the debates about ethanol has to do with what feedstocks are going to be used and what process to break down the feedstock structure to isolate the sugars. The yield comes only from the sugar in the feedstock. Food vs. fuel, Energy Return on Investment (EROI), water usage, biofuel yield - these are all very real issues that will impact what, where, and how facilities will be located and financed.

Syngas-fermentation offers an alternative. Instead of biologically breaking down the feedstock using enzymes, the feedstock is gasified into component molecules of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. These become the building blocks for reformulation as higher alcohols. Some technologies, like Range Fuels', use inorganic catalysts to effect the reformulation. SF, on the other hand, relies on microorganisms in controlled bioreactors to eat up the syngas and produce ethanol and water.

It is a very attractive alternative because it is omnivorous (any blended biomass will do including unrecyclable urban waste and fossil derivatives like tires, auto fluff, petcoke, and plastics). The yield is high because the non-sugar content of the feedstock can be utilized for its molecules. The higher the content of carbon in the feedstock, the higher the yield of ethanol gallons per ton. It requires very little water (roughly 1 gallon per gallon of biofuel) and most of the energy for gasification comes from the feedstock itself.

Below is the complete press release that was posted today.

Coskata Inc. Chooses Madison, Pa. for Commercial Demonstration Facility to Produce Next-Generation Ethanol
Alter Nrg, Westinghouse Plasma to support 40,000 gallon cellulosic ethanol plant

Madison, Pa. – April 25, 2008 – Coskata Inc., a leading developer of next-generation biofuels, said today it will produce 40,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year at a commercial demonstration plant near Pittsburgh.

The $25 million project will be located at the Westinghouse Plasma Center, the current site of a pilot-plant gasifier owned and operated by Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter Nrg Corp.

“Coskata has been eager to reach this milestone, because it will be a significant demonstration before building our first commercial plant that we can produce ethanol from non-food based sources for less than $1 a gallon,” said Bill Roe, president and CEO of Coskata. “This facility is being built with some of the leading gasification technology, supplied by Alter NRG, and in one of the most progressive states for next generation ethanol."

The plant, located about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, is expected to begin delivering ethanol in early 2009 utilizing a variety of input materials, including woody biomass as well as agricultural and industrial wastes. General Motors, a strategic partner and investor in Coskata, will use the next generation ethanol for testing in flex-fuel vehicles at its Milford, Mich., Proving Grounds.

“We are delighted Coskata has chosen the State of Pennsylvania as the first location for production of their next generation ethanol,” said Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. “Coskata’s cutting edge facility will strengthen Pennsylvania’s already first class reputation as a leader in producing and delivering alternative fuels and will bring us one step closer to further reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

Coskata announced in February that it will commission a full-scale, 50 million – 100 million gallon-per-year commercial plant by the year 2011. This facility is being planned in parallel with the construction of the Madison demonstration facility and is expected to break ground this year.

“The Coskata syngas to ethanol plant, using Westinghouse Plasma Corporation’s gasifier will make for a world-class demonstration,” said Mark Montemurro, President and Chief Executive Officer of Alter Nrg. “We view Coskata’s highly efficient process as a perfect complement to our environmentally responsible gasification technology.”

Coskata leverages proprietary microorganisms and efficient bioreactor designs in a unique three-step conversion process that can turn virtually any carbon-based feedstock into ethanol, from anywhere in the world.

Coskata’s process for next-generation ethanol is environmentally superior, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 84% compared to conventional gasoline; and has the ability to generate up to 7.7 times as much energy as is required to produce the ethanol, as verified by Argonne National Labs in a well-to-wheel analysis. Additionally, Coskata’s process uses less than a gallon of process water to make a gallon of ethanol, compared with three gallons or more required by other processes.

About Coskata
Coskata is a biology-based renewable energy company that is commercializing technology to produce biofuels from a wide variety of feedstocks. Using proprietary microorganisms and transformative bioreactor designs, the company will produce ethanol for under $1 per gallon almost anywhere in the world, from a wide variety of feedstocks. Coskata has compiled a strong IP portfolio of patents, trade secrets and know-how and assembled a first-class team for the development and commercialization of its compelling syngas-to-ethanol process technology. For more information, please visit www.coskata.com.

About Alter Nrg
Alter Nrg is pursuing alternative energy solutions to meet the growing demand for environmentally responsible energy in world markets. The company’s vision is to become a North American leader in the development of innovative gasification projects for the commercial production of energy. The Company’s objective for the next decade is to utilize our commercially proven plasma gasification technology to become a senior energy producer of hydrogen, syngas, and transportation fuels (diesel, naphtha, ethanol, etc.), steam and electricity, all of which are fundamental products for the world’s growing energy needs. For more information, visit www.alternrg.ca.

About Westinghouse Plasma Corporation, a division of Alter Nrg
Relying on more than 30 years of experience in the application of plasma technology, Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC) is focused on applying innovative applications using plasma for environmentally responsible energy production, waste processing and metallurgical and chemical processing solutions. Our experience, including over 24 patents relating to the plasma torch, plasma torch systems and process design, allows us to meet the needs of both research and development for industrial applications in various markets. Westinghouse Plasma Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter Nrg, a publicly traded company on the TSX Venture Exchange. For more information, please visit www.westinghouse-plasma.com.

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April 2, 2008

Responses to Time's unbalanced biofuels bashing

The April 7th issue of Time Magazine features a cover story that attacks the biofuels industry in general and corn ethanol in particular.

I have written about irresponsible media attacks before (i.e., Rolling Stone Magazine's The Ethanol Scam) and when the Science magazine "Land Use Change" research article started being trumpeted in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal I even organized two Bioenergy and Communications side events at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference. The plague of headline seeking writers to play gotcha journalism with incredibly important technological developments knows no bounds. What is surprising is the desperation with which "responsible" media grab and attempt to parlay slanted research into public lynchings.

My personal response to Time's "Inbox" was a brief rewriting of their cover headline (vainly hoping they would actually print it without butchering it too badly):

There are plenty of Clean Energy Myths but I think Time magazine has been duped. The cover story subhead should have read: "Mainstream Media and Big Oil are bashing biofuels like corn-based ethanol as alternatives to oil. In addition to driving up food prices and making global warming worse they are paving the way for future energy resource wars like Iraq - and you're paying for it."

The paradigm shift from fossil to renewable liquid fuels is imperative. We need alternatives at the pump and ethanol is already contributing as a clean oxygenate alternative to toxic MTBE's. Meanwhile biofuel feedstocks are shifting from cultivated food crops to greenhouse gas producing environmental disaster debris like landfills; knocked-down, bug-infested, and fire-ravaged forests; toxic waste dumps; and disease-infested marshlands. Leaders in government, environmental groups, private industry, and academia are working together to create ecologically and economically sustainable solutions. Why don't your writers do something constructive, rather than sensational, and report on those efforts?

Other, more reasoned responses have been issued by 25x'25 and the Ethanol Promotion Information Council (EPIC)...

April 2, 2008
25x'25 Responds to Time Magazine Biofuels Article with Letter to the Editor
by Congressman Thomas W. Ewing

Responding to widespread inaccuracies in this week's Time magazine cover story, the 25x'25 National Steering Committee is responding with a letter to the editors of Time expressing disappointment with the questionable characterization of biofuels and their role in the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in "The Clean Energy Scam," by Michael Grunwald. The letter was authored by steering committee member and former Congressman Thomas W. Ewing, who is also the Immediate Past Chairman of the USDA and DOE Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee. The entire letter follows:

As a former Member of Congress and a leader in a diverse alliance of agricultural, environmental and conservation organizations working together to advance clean energy solutions, I am greatly disturbed with Time magazine's April 7th feature story on biofuels. In this article, Michael Grunwald criticizes biofuels yet offers no alternative to using petroleum to meet our energy needs - much of which comes from the Middle East.

Members of our alliance share the author's anxiety for the continued health of the Amazon rain forest and other "carbon sinks" that nature has provided around the globe. As champions of many forms of land-based renewable energy (biomass, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy and hydropower, in addition to biofuels), we agree that environmentally sensitive lands should not be exploited in pursuit of renewable fuels.

Unfortunately, the story's message of concern is undermined by misinformation about biofuels and an over-simplified analysis of complex systems. The implication that biofuel production is responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rain forest ignores the reality that ever increasing worldwide demand for food and fiber is the primary cause of land use change in this and other regions. Simply eliminating biofuels will not stop land use changes from occurring, and in countries like Haiti that have already lost their forests, biofuels could help reestablish forests and offer more affordable and sustainable energy options. Similarly, information in the story about a recent study, which claims land-use changes brought about by increased biofuel production are producing more greenhouse gas emissions (Searchinger et al.), only tells half the story. What is missing is that Searchinger's methodologies have been widely questioned by respected biofuel life-cycle analysis researchers such as Michael Wang, with the Center for Transportation Research at the Argonne National Laboratory, who counter that Searchinger et al. used outdated, if not incorrect, data to reach their conclusions.

The story's reference to a UN food expert's dramatic condemnation of biofuel production fails to mention that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization almost immediately distanced itself from the remarks. The head of the UN Food Program recently noted that higher energy costs, erratic weather and low stocks are big factors contributing to the high cost of food around the globe.

Of particular concern is the ready dismissal of emerging technologies that will allow us to produce next generation biofuels from non-food feedstocks sustainably grown on underutilized and marginal lands not suited for food production. Conservation tillage and other agriculture and forestry residue management practices used to produce biomass energy feedstocks can also provide a constant buildup of soil organic carbon. Researchers at Ohio State have concluded that the total potential of carbon sequestration in U.S. soils, counting croplands, grazing lands and woodlands, is nearly 600 million metric tons of carbon, or the equivalent of more than 2,200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions - about 33 percent of total U.S. emissions.

We encourage the editors of Time to contribute to a much-needed discussion of the role renewable resources will play in improving national security and the environment while moving us closer to energy independence. We simply ask that they demand a basic level of accuracy and balance from the stories that they run.

EPIC's Executive Director Toni Nuerenberg response to Time article entitled "The Clean Energy Scam"

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