Coskata researchers estimate that their commercialized process could deliver ethanol at under $1 per gallon—less than half of today’s $2-per-gallon wholesale price, Tobey claims. Outside evaluators at Argonne National Laboratory measured the input-output “energy balance” of the Coskata process and found that, optimally, it can produce 7.7 times as much energy in the end product as it takes to make it.
The company plans to construct a 40,000-gallon-a-year pilot plant near the GM test track in Milford, Mich., by the end of this year and hopes to build a full-scale, 100-million-gallon-a-year plant by 2011. Coskata may have some company by then; Bioengineering Resources in Fayetteville, Ark., is already developing what seems to be a similar three-step pathway in which syngas is consumed by bacteria isolated by James Gaddy, a retired chemical engineer at the University of Arkansas. Considering the advances in these and other methods, plant cellulose could provide the greener ethanol everyone wants.
This article was originally published with the title Cellulose Success.