On the face of it, this idea for turning waste to fuel is appealing. The first question is whether it can be done without consuming more energy than it produces (EROEI). The second question is whether burning it constitutes a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. No doubt there will discussion on these questions at The Oil Drum.
04-27-2007 Update: Energy authority Robert Rapier has posted on the refutable science of this experimental technology at R-Squared Energy Blog. He calls it "certainly worth funding" but predicts, as guessed, it will not efficiently produce energy. Thanks to reader Darryl (see comments) for mentioning Rapier's post.
Carbon Gas Is Explored as a Source of Ethanol
Lawrence M. Fisher, April 24, 2007 (NY Times)
The process. Click to enlarge.
LanzaTech/ Sean Simpson, co-founder & chief scientific officer; Khosla Ventures/Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems;
Khosla Ventures has invested $3.5 million in LanzaTech’s research and pilot project to produce ethanol from carbon monoxide gas via fermentation in a bacteria.
The money has been invested, the deal is done.
LanzaTech is based in Auckland, New Zealand. Khosla Ventures is based in California’s Silicon Valley.
- Khosla Ventures has funded “more than a dozen” clean-tech start-ups since Khosla founded it in 2004.
- Ethanol, produced at economically competitive rates is in high demand as a gasoline additive and some anticipate it will serve as an alternative fuel.
- Corn sugar is fermented by yeast into ethanol; a bacterium ferments carbon monoxide gas, an industrial waste product, into ethanol in the same way. Obtaining industrial waste is likely to be more cost-efficient than purchasing corn in a competitive commodities market. LanzaTech’s Simpson claims the steel industry produces a half ton of CO/ton of manufactured steel.
- Though Khosla is one of its biggest boosters, ethanol has problems and detractors. Even if this new method is EROEI positive, transport via existing pipelines is not possible due to corrosive elements in ethanol. Using it as a fuel does create independence from oil and decrease greenhouse gases but also decreases fuel efficiency and increases smog production.
- Khosla: “When I passed [the LanzaTech project] on to my partners for due diligence, the technology stood up to every test, and the intellectual property protection was awesome…“The performance of the bugs was frankly mind-boggling to me, not something I would have expected from a tiny research effort in New Zealand…the best process engineers we know [evaluated] the technology…and the answer was yes.”
- Khosla: “There are many more weapons in the war on oil than the narrow-minded folks who do prognostication imagine…Most of the action in energy is coming from biotechnology, and the most interesting work in biotechnology is energy.”