GE announced today that they have just joined an $8 million funding round for California-based start-up CoolPlanet, which is developing a unique thermal/mechanical processor technology that converts low-grade biomass - such as grass, woodchips, crop residue and algae — into high-grade fuel. With this recent upsurge in funding, can biofuels be a viable reality…
Turning Grass, Woodchips & Algae into Fuel with CoolPlanet
Venture capital dollars have been in the spotlight this week with GE’s ecomagination Challenge opening the tap on its $200 million VC fund. But long before the Challenge launched, GE’s Energy Financial Services business has been an active player in the VC arena, from power management technologies, to solar power investments, to today’s biofuels partnership.
They’ve just joined an $8 million funding round for California-based start-up CoolPlanet, which is developing a unique thermal/mechanical processor technology that converts low-grade biomass – such as grass, woodchips, crop residue and algae — into high-grade fuel.
In addition to being a low-capital technology, it excels on the greenhouse gas front. The technology produces a type of char that can be used to capture carbon and act as a soil conditioner. As CoolPlanet explains, “By burying this carbon in an appropriate manner, we can greatly enhance soil fertility while sequestering carbon for hundreds of years.”
Mod squad: CoolPlanetBioFuels plans to package its technology with an “open architecture” chemical processing section that comes in standard modular shipping containers. They can each produce up to 1 million gallons of fuel per year — or be combined, as seen in the illustration above. The biofuels work is also poised to create jobs in rural, agricultural areas as well as increase demand for non-food crops. Image: CoolPlanet.
“GE’s technical and market resources could accelerate our development well beyond the impact of the company’s financial investment,” said Mike Cheiky, CoolPlanet’s president and chief technology officer.
First flight: GE is no stranger to biofuels research. GE Aviation has been working with the U.S. Navy to adapt the GE engines powering the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter. Dubbed the “Green Hornet,” the first biofuels-powered one flew earlier this year – becoming the first Naval fighter to do it. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic flew its GE CF6-powered Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam, becoming the first airline in the world to fly on biofuel.
As GE Aviation’s Mike Epstein recently wrote on GE Reports, “In addition to environmental stewardship, biofuel blends of petroleum and non-petroleum sources can offer significant advantages. Designed to be “drop in” replacements, their physical and chemical properties are similar, if not identical, to conventional fuels they replace” — which often means costly engine modifications aren’t necessary.
Basil R. Horangic of North Bridge Venture Partners, which led the investments in CoolPlanet, added: “The fuel market is one of the world’s largest at about $4 trillion per year. Today, biofuels are only a tiny portion of that market, but are poised for rapid growth based on concerns about global warming and importing oil. CoolPlanet’s technology could be a major driver in expanding the use of low carbon footprint and locally sourced fuels.”
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