Coskata vs Range Fuels: who's the best?

August 12, 2011 |

Background: This is a first round, East Regional match-up between #1 seed Coskata and #16 seed Range Fuels.

The winner gets: Most votes advances to the second-round (round of 32), and a shot at the Biofuels Sweet Sixteen.

The loser: Goes home.

Laurels: Coskata is the #8 company in the 2010-11 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy , and was #1 in the 2008-09 poll. Range Fuels currently holds down #34 – was in the top 10 in 2008-09.

The match-up: Both have gasifiers on the front end, and work with a variety of feedstocks, especially liking wood, both landed big support from the USDA and DOE, both have Khosla Ventures in their DNA. There, the similarities end. Range Fuels uses a catalyst to chemically convert syngas to cellulosic ethanol, while Coskata uses a magic bug that ferments syngas into chemicals or fuels.

Looking at Coskata

Company description:

Coskata is a biology-based renewable energy company whose low-cost platform technology allows for the production of fuels and chemicals from a wide variety of input materials, including biomass, agricultural and municipal wastes, and other carbonaceous material, at a low cost.

Using proprietary microorganisms and patented bioreactor designs, Coskata is ready today to produce FlexEthanol™, or feedstock flexible ethanol, to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil in an economically and environmentally beneficial way.

Type of Technology(ies):

Coskata’s affordable, flexible and efficient process allows for one of the lowest production costs in the industry and one of the highest ethanol yields per ton of biomass.  Our technology employs a three step process: gasification, biofermentation, and separation. During gasification, the feedstock is thermally broken down to form synthesis gas (syngas). During the second step, fermentation, the syngas is sent to a proprietary bioreactor where patented microorganisms consume the gas and produce ethanol. The last step of the Coskata process uses conventional distillation and dehydration technology to separate the ethanol from the water, resulting in pure, fuel-grade ethanol.

Feedstocks:

Coskata’s highly feedstock flexible process can utilize virtually any carbonaceous feedstock, including energy crops such as: switchgrass and miscanthus; wood chips, forestry products, corn stover, bagasse and other typical agricultural wastes; municipal solid waste and industrial organic waste like petroleum coke.  Our feedstock flexibility allows for enormous geographical and economic advantages over other fuel technologies.

Competitive Edge(s):

Coskata’s hybrid process, combining gasification and biofermentation, leads to several competitive advantages in terms of efficiency, affordability, and flexibility.

Coskata’s highly efficient hybrid technology allows for one of the lowest costs of production in the industry.  Our microorganisms are specific to ethanol production and our technology has the ability to extract the entire energy value of the feedstock. Finally, we are not dependent on expensive enzymes or chemicals and pre-treatment costs are significantly lower than any non-gasification based technology available today.

Second, Coskata’s ethanol conversion process is one of the most feedstock flexible technologies among advanced biofuel startups and is able to create a high quality fuel from virtually any carbon-containing material. This feedstock flexibility also leads to geographic flexibility, allowing the company to build facilities virtually anywhere around the world where feedstock is available.

Finally, Coskata is one of the few companies that have successfully scaled our technology, as demonstrated at our integrated biorefinery facility in Pennsylvania. The facility has proven that Coskata can produce ethanol at one of the lowest costs in the industry, and be cost-competitive with gasoline without long-term government subsidies.

Looking at Range Fuels

Technology:

Range Fuels is focused on commercially producing low-carbon biofuels, including cellulosic

ethanol, and clean renewable power using renewable and sustainable supplies of biomass that cannot be used for food.  The company uses an innovative, two-step thermo-chemical process to convert non-food biomass, such as wood chips, switchgrass, corn stover, sugarcane bagasse and olive pits to clean renewable power and cellulosic biofuels.

Range Fuels’ Two-step Thermo-chemical Conversion Process

In the first step of the process heat, pressure and steam are used to convert the non-food biomass to a synthesis gas or syngas.  Excess energy in this step is recovered and used to generate clean renewable power.  In the second step the cleaned syngas is passed over a proprietary catalyst and transformed into cellulosic biofuels, which can then be separated and  processed to yield a variety of low carbon biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and methanol.

These products can be used to displace gasoline or diesel transportation fuels, generate clean renewable energy or be used as low carbon chemical building blocks.

Range Fuels is employing its proprietary two-step thermo-chemical conversion process in its first commercial cellulosic biofuels plant currently under construction and scheduled to begin production in the second quarter of 2010.

Competitive edge(s):

Range Fuels’ proprietary two-step thermo-chemical process can convert any type of non-food biomass into cellulosic biofuels. This feedstock flexibility reduces reliance upon specialized crops and any single geographic region as a feedstock source, which differentiates the process from traditional starch-based ethanol production and 2nd generation bio-chemical conversion processes, and promotes stable biomass supply and pricing.

The process can produce a variety of low carbon biofuels that can be used to displace gasoline or diesel transportation fuels, generate clean renewable energy or be used as low carbon chemical building blocks.  This ability to produce a variety of cellulosic biofuels, as well as produce clean renewable power in the process, reduces exposure to price volatility typically associated with specific commodity markets.

Range Fuels’ technology has a zero carbon footprint and very low emissions.  Our carbon life cycle analysis using standard models and including the positive impact of our generation of clean renewable power shows our Soperton Plant project, at full capacity, will have a negative carbon footprint or in other words we will have a greater than 100% reduction in greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuel-derived gasoline.  This advantage relative to conventional starch-based ethanol production and traditional transportation fuels will become increasingly valuable as low carbon fuels standards and climate change legislation is implemented.

Additionally, Range Fuels is the only company to have raised the necessary capital to begin construction on a commercial-scale cellulosic biofuels plant.  Range Fuels has commenced construction on its first commercial cellulosic biofuels plant and plans to begin production from Phase 1 of the Soperton Plant in the second quarter 2010.

Development stage

Range Fuels is currently constructing Phase I of its first commercial-scale cellulosic biofuels plant near Soperton, Georgia, which will employ Range Fuels’ innovative, two-step thermo-chemical conversion process.  The plant will be the first in the U.S. to produce commercial quantities of low carbon biofuels from biomass, which includes all plant and plant-derived material, such as wood, grasses, and corn stover, and will also generate clean renewable power from energy recovered in the process of converting non-food biomass to cellulosic  biofuels.

Deep dive data on Coskata

Coskata’s complete Hot 50 / Transformative Technologies profile is here.

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