Coskata names cellulosic ethanol plant site

By Sarah Smith | April 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted April 25, 2008 at 11:44 a.m. CST

Coskata, Inc., announced April 25 that its pilot cellulosic ethanol plant would be built northeast of Pittsburgh at the Westinghouse Plasma Center, which is currently the site of a pilot plant gasifier owned and operated by Westinghouse Plasma Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter Nrg Corp.

The 40,000 gallon a year plant, in Madison, Pa., will cost $25 million. Coskata said the plant will begin furnishing partner General Motors with ethanol, produced at a cost of $1 per gallon, for its flex fuel vehicles by 2009. "Coskata has been eager to reach this milestone because it will be a significant demonstration before building our first commercial plant that we can produce ethanol from non-food based sources," said Bill Roe, Coskata CEO. "It culminates a lot of work we've been doing both with our gasification partner in this project and being able to announce this site."

Westinghouse will provide the gasification technology to break down Coskata's woody biomass feedstocks. The pilot plant may also use agricultural and industrial waste materials. Coskata has already produced small amounts of cellulosic ethanol at another pilot plant at its Ohio headquarters. GM will test the fuel at its Milford Proving Grounds in Michigan.

Coskata Vice President of Development Wes Bolsen said several companies have expressed interest in participating in the company's large scale facility, estimated at 50 MMgy to 100 MMgy capacity. The site location for the estimated $300 million refinery has not been announced. Coskata wants to produce 1 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol in the future and although it's looking for partners to help build the plants to produce the fuel, it is also planning to license its technology to companies that would pay royalties and refine ethanol with locally available feedstocks. Coskata has said the commercial scale plant will produce ethanol by 2011.

Coskata's latest announcement included a ceremony featuring Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a biofuels enthusiast. "We are delighted Coskata has chosen the state of Pennsylvania as the first location for production of their next generation ethanol," Rendell said, noting that such endeavors will move the country toward lessening its dependence on foreign oil. The announcement came amid record prices for barrels of oil.

"The demonstration facility is probably the single most important key to propagating our ongoing development in commercialization of our technology," Roe said, adding that the company hopes to have one or two licensing agreements in place within the next six to 12 months.

Alter Nrg is a gasification innovator in the energy industry. Its plasma gasification technology produces hydrogen, syngas, transportation fuels and steam, as well as electricity. Westinghouse uses the technology in waste processing and metallurgical and chemical processes.

"We've had a lot of questions and we can finally say, OK gang, here it is. Here we go,'" Roe said. "It's a happy day for us."