Cellulosic-ethanol developer Coskata said Friday that it will locate its demonstration plant at the Westinghouse Plasma Center in Madison, Penn.
Earlier this month, the company told Greentech Media that it already had begun building the 40,000-gallon-per-year plant, which it expects to begin delivering ethanol next year (see Coskata Begins Building Demonstration Plant).
Coskata said the project will cost $25 million, and will be located at the site of a pilot-plant gasifier owned and operated by Westinghouse Plasma Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter Nrg Corp.
“It’s a substantial commitment we’ve made with our investors’ dollars to put this together,” said Chief Marketing Officer Wes Bolsen. “Even though 40,000 gallons a year is not a massive size, it’s really the minimum size we needed to show this process works.”
The company will modify the gasifier to operate 24-7, turning different carbon-based materials into synthesis gas, which includes hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and then using that “syngas” to make ethanol, he said.
“Coskata has already shown at our offices in Warrenville, Ill., that we can take synthesis gas and our microorganisms can consume it and make ethanol,” Bolsen said. “What we’re doing here is really demonstrating one step prior to full commercialization of Coskata technology, where you will be able to watch wood chips go in the front end and, two minutes later, see ethanol come out the back end.”
While Coskata already is confident of its technology, completing the demonstration plant will convince “everyone else who has said, ‘Well, we’ll see when Coskata can get there,’” Bolsen said.
The company chose the Pennsylvania site because it already had a gasifier that has been turning sugarcane bagasse, wood chips, municipal waste and other agricultural waste into “syngas” – ideal for a test plant, he said.
“If we went with a gasifier that was really good with, say, wood chips, we’d only be testing one feed stock,” he said. “This really allows us to test different input materials [in a single demonstration plant]. … If we instead had to have four different gasifiers for four different feedstocks, then it would be much harder.”
Westinghouse has run hundreds of tests on the gasifier over more than 20 years and the gasifier is extremely flexible because plasma gets so hot – up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit – that nothing can survive, Bolsen said.
General Motors also already has used the same gasifier in a metal-melting foundry in Ohio, making it a “really neat tieback” into Coskata’s partnership with the car company, he said.