Ethanol From Garbage?

In Detroit General Motors (GM) announced a deal with a small company called Coskata to produce ethanol for <$1 per gallon from virtually anything.

Currently ethanol is primarily corn or plant based, but that has its concerns with water usage. What Coskata have done is create a process that allows almost any material to be “turned into” ethanol. That means plastic, trash, wood, old tyres/tires, waste and so on can be used, just not glass or metal.

Coskata ethanol process

The great thing about this process is that it takes around 1 gallon of water to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. This compares to about 3 or 4 gallons of water for traditional corn/plant based ethanol that use cellulosic production. They also say they do not use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the production, just “carefully selected ones”. The result is 97% ethanol with the rest being water. The production and use of this ethanol apparently emits 84% less greenhouse gases than gasoline.

Ethanol also has it’s advantages over other alternative fuels for several reasons:
– It’s suitable for the current refuelling structure (i.e. gas/petrol stations).
– It doesn’t ned to be imported (in the US), cutting reliance on other countries and reducing the environmental impact of drilling, processing and shipping oil.
– It doesn’t require a change in customer behaviour, you can fill up your vehicle in a similar fashion that you do now.

Currently only 1% of the US’s 170,000 gas stations offer ethanol, but by the end of 2008 GM will have 25 co-called “flex-fuel” models and potentially 50% of new GM vehicles could be capable of running on ethanol.

More information will be disclosed in my report on my (small group) interview with Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman that will be posted in a day or two.


6 thoughts on “Ethanol From Garbage?

  1. Of course, the main question is: will this process be expanded to have a real impact, or will ethanol-from-garbage, a very exciting development, become another case of “eyewash” for public consumption, with King Oil still in the driver’s seat?

    So many innovative technologies – such as practical batteries for GM’s EV-1, an innovative technology in itself that has been destroyed by GM – have been briefly seen and then buried that I am very skeptical.


  2. Hi Richard,
    I agree, however after meeting with GM’s VP Bob Lutz and Chairman Rick Wagoner (both interviews to go up later this week) I can only say they were so adamant and passionate about getting rid of dependance on foreign oil (the price being a barrier to the sale of new cars) that I was convinced that this is their desire, though just one of the technologies for the future. Longer term they had grander visions that I’ll talk about soon.


  3. Hey, Joel! The NAIAS was awesome, wasn’t it?

    I hope that Coskata can pull everything off at the cost and via the processes that they have outlined.

    I should check to see if this is a public company — investing a few bucks now could yield big dividends later.

    Imagine grinding up all of those used tires filling up our landfills.


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