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Cobalt, American Process ramp up biobutanol production

Cobalt, American Process ramp up biobutanol production

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Cobalt Technologies and American Process, Inc. will commercialize renewable biobutanol production in a new facility in Alpena, Michigan. The goal: 470,000 gallons of biofuel each year.

Green technologies such as biofuels are great, but if they can't scale -- technically and economically -- they're dead in the water.

So it's good news that Mountain View, Calif.-based Cobalt Technologies announced on Tuesday that it has agreed to commercialize renewable biobutanol production in partnership with Atlanta, Ga.-based American Process, Inc.

The companies plan to build the world's first industrial-scale cellulosic biorefinery to produce biobutanol, and jointly market a biobutanol product made using API's "GreenPower+" technology to biomass power facilities.

Cobalt's forte is in the production of biobutanol for use as a greener chemical, additive and jet fuel; American Process specializes in lignocellulosic sugar production and bioenergy process technologies. Under the agreement, Cobalt contributes its continuous fermentation and distillation technology, and American Process brings its Alpena Biorefinery, under construction in Michigan, to the table.

Specifically:

  • The biorefinery will demonstrate the conversion of hemicelluloses (extracted from woody biomass) to fermentable sugars that can be used for production of ethanol.
  • Cobalt's technology will demonstrate that these sugars can also produce butanol.
  • The Alpena plant is the next step for Cobalt toward building multi-million gallon facilities.

API's "GreenPower+" process is used to extract hemicelluloses sugars from woody biomass using steam or hot water, then convert them to fermentable sugars in a cost-effective way.

Here's how the company describes it:

The extracted biomass is returned- with consistent low moisture composition- to the biomass boiler for the production of steam and/or electricity – while sugars are converted to final bio-products. The process significantly increases overall profitability of the site by converting hemicelluloses into fermentable sugars, which can be converted to high value biofuels and biochemicals. The GreenPower+ technology is applicable in any industry employing biomass boilers or having organic effluent.

Meanwhile, Cobalt’s technology converts sugars from non-food feedstock, such as forest waste and mill residues, into biobutanol. Its intellectual property is centered around advancements in biocatalyst selection, bioreactor design and process engineering.

The facility will produce ethanol in early 2012 but will switch to biobutanol halfway through the year, the companies say, producing some 470,000 gallons each year for the chemical industry. It is funded in part by an $18 million U.S. Department of Energy grant and an additional $4 million grant from the State of Michigan.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure