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Coskata begins work on cellulosic ethanol plant

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Coskata Begins Building Demonstration Plant
Coskata has begun producing small amounts of ethanol at a pilot plant at its offices in Warrenville, Ill., and has started building its 40,000-gallon-per-year demonstration plant, Chief Marketing Officer Wes Bolsen told Greentech Media this week.

The Khosla Ventures-backed startup made a splash in January when it announced a partnership with General Motors and claimed it could make ethanol for less than $1 per gallon (see With GM Deal in Hand, Coskata Promises $1 Ethanol).

GM had originally hoped the pilot plant, which is only "producing at a liters and gallons kind of scale," would be completed before the startup came out of stealth mode in January, Richard Tobey, vice president of research and development and engineering, said at the time.

While the plant opened a few weeks late, it has been operating for a couple of months, Bolsen said. The plant has helped increase the efficiency of Coskata's technology, and its organisms can produce ethanol twice as efficiently as they could in January, he said.

The bugs can produce 100 times as much ethanol from a dry ton of material as they could in 2006, when the team began working with them, he said, adding that the efficiency levels are six to nine months ahead of schedule.
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Now GM adds some muscle!

Cultivating new fuel: Auto dealer's pump shows one way to change gas habits
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News
Charles Martin has no problem selling Chevrolet pickups and Hummer SUVs to truck-loving Texans. But despite a steady flow of customers, a frustrating reality nagged the Dallas-area auto dealer: Even though many of the trucks Martin sells can burn corn-based E-85 ethanol instead of gasoline, his customers found it almost impossible to find E-85 pumps around town.

Fed up, Martin opened a little gas station of his own at his dealership; it provides ethanol, along with biodiesel and gasoline.

Customers flocked to Classic Chevrolet/Hummer on the station's opening day, thanks in part to a promotion sponsored by ethanol-booster General Motors Corp. And within a few days, nearly three dozen dealers from around the country called or flew in to check out his operation.


"I just get sick and tired of oil prices and the oil business," Martin said, from his dealership in Grapevine, Texas, 20 miles outside of Dallas. "Once it got to the point where people were interested, this was definitely an opportunity to provide something for our customers."

It's the type of nontraditional approach that GM and others think has the potential to transform the way millions of Americans gas up, be it with ethanol or hydrogen or an electric plug.

One of the automaker's top executives in charge of infrastructure issues says the gas station of the future may very well resemble the one in Dallas -- independently owned with a variety of fuels.

"We need to accelerate the rate at which these fuels are available, and if you look at real estate in a different way, the possibilities are limitless," said Mary Beth Stanek, GM's director of environment and energy. The Detroit automaker, like other manufacturers, is building more so-called FlexFuel vehicles that can take both E-85 ethanol and gasoline.

Stanek sees a future not only with gas stations, but with stores that give themselves titles such as "energy hub" or "green retailer." Consumers would go there to plug in, fuel up or recharge.

"It takes a retailer time to get interested and time to learn," she said. "You have to want to do this -- it's not something just anyone can do."

Ethanol as an alternative to petroleum is still a controversial issue. Fewer than 1 percent of filling stations nationwide offer E-85 fuel.

While the fuel gets green billing, many argue that corn-based E-85 is less efficient than gasoline and consumes more energy than it saves because of the work in farming the corn and transporting the fuel via truck or train.

"The reason why you haven't seen a greater number of E-85 pumps is that customers aren't knocking our doors down to get it," said Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association.

Other gasoline alternatives have detractors too. Critics of hydrogen fuel cells say a viable infrastructure will never happen. Cynics of the electric car doubt the auto industry will ever develop a battery strong and durable enough to replace the gas engine.

But few disagree that Americans are perturbed with the uncertainty of see-sawing fuel prices that have leapt nearly 50 percent in the last three years.

"People are frustrated and they're getting angry with the oil companies and they're frustrated that there's no real viable alternative," Jason Toews, cofounder of, a network of more than 179 gas price information Web sites that helps consumers locate low gasoline.

He said people aren't likely to go far out of their way to find an ethanol pump. But the idea may have appeal to a select group.

Martin said his station has seen a steady stream of customers since opening last month. GM helped by sponsoring a day of 85.9-cents-per gallon fill-ups at the station. Classic is the nation's largest Chevy dealer and is located in a metropolitan region with more than 5 million people.

GM, working to cultivate a green image, is doing all it can to promote its ethanol offerings. The automaker says it has more than 3 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road in the United States, and plans to make half its portfolio E85-compatible by 2012.

The dealership spent about $500,000 to install nine pumps that dispense E-85, biodiesel and gasoline with up to 10 percent ethanol, the type of fuel sold at most gas stations. Gasoline so far is outselling ethanol by about two to one, Martin said.

Fellow dealer Marc Heitz, owner of Marc Heitz Chevrolet in Norman, Okla., liked what he saw at Classic after a visit to the dealership last month. Heitz figures he could do even more business because his store is located on a main thoroughfare through town.

"We're already selling these cars, we should provide consumers a way to get the fuel," he said. There's nowhere nearby for consumers to get ethanol, he said. "It's a pretty incredible opportunity for us."
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Coskata, GM to Reveal Location for Ethanol Plant
By Jim Mateja, Apr 24, 2008 2:51 PM
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Coskata Helps Secure V-8 Future for GM

CHICAGO – General Motors Corp. and fuels partner Coskata Inc. will announce the location of a new cellulosic ethanol plant tomorrow, Coskata officials here say.
The new plant will produce 40,000 gallons (151,380 L) of the fuel for testing at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds, in Milford, MI.
Asked if the facility would be located in Coskata’s home base of Illinois, an executive says, “We are happy to locate the plant wherever our partner wants to put the plant.”
GM announced in January it was taking an undisclosed equity stake in the biology-based renewable-energy company. The auto maker said it would work with Coskata on rapid commercialization of a unique technology promised to affordably and efficiently produce cellulosic ethanol from almost any renewable source, including wood, garbage, manure, old tires and factory waste, rather than food-based crops such as corn and sugarcane.
The Milford test program is expected to get under way this fall.
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