GE Jumps Into Biofuel Funding

Hot on the heels of the latest group of Ecomagination challenge winners, GE has announced that it has joined an $8 million funding round for CoolPlanet Biofuels, a startup that turns cellulosic waste (i.e. plant waste and woodchips) into biofuel. The funding round was led by North Bridge Venture Partners.

CoolPlanet Biofuels, a California-based startup, claims that it is "developing a revolutionary thermal/mechanical processor that directly inputs raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residues and non-food fuel crops, and produces distinct gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional hydrocarbon fuel." The only byproduct from the process is biochar, a coal-like substance that can either be burned for fuel or buried as a soil conditioner for farmland.

It's not an entirely unique idea. Carbonscape, a New Zealand startup, also produces biofuel that yields a biochar byproduct.

But the investment is a smart move for GE. CoolPlanet is quickly gaining steam as a player in the biofuels market (it grabbed $3.5 million in its first funding round last year). The global fuel market is approximately $4 trillion each year, and while biofuels are only a small part of that at the moment, they're poised to become increasingly important as traditional fuel prices rise. And when that happens, GE and CoolPlanet will be there to reap the rewards.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • Erich J. Knight

    Biomass should never be just burnt, instead it should be fractionated to it's high value uses.
    Biochar systems achieve this, to fill in gaps and hopefully expand your story & research , particularly concerning Christoph Steiner's new work with Biochar and NH3 conservation in composting systems.

    Recent NATURE STUDY;
    Sustainable bio char to mitigate global climate change
    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/j...

    Not talked about in this otherwise comprehensive study are the climate and whole ecological implications of new , higher value, applications of chars.

    First,
    the in situ remediation of a vast variety of toxic agents in soils and sediments.
    Biochar Sorption of Contaminants;
    http://www.biorenew.iastate.ed...

    Dr. Lima's work; Specialized Characterization Methods for Biochar http://www.biorenew.iastate.ed...
    And at USDA;
    The Ultimate Trash To Treasure: *ARS Research Turns Poultry Waste into Toxin-grabbing Char
    http://www.ars.usda.gov/IS/AR/...

    Second,
    the uses as a feed ration for livestock to reduce GHG emissions and increase disease resistance.

    Third,
    Recent work by C. Steiner showing a 52% reduction of NH3 loss when char is used as a composting accelerator. This will have profound value added consequences for the commercial composting industry by reduction of their GHG emissions and the sale of compost as a nitrogen fertilizer.

    Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.
    Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,
    Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

    Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration (= to 1 Ton CO2e) + Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels = to 1MWh exported electricity, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

    Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw;
    "Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes;
    "Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !".
    Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar.
    Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come.
    Microbes like to sit down when they eat.
    By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders & Kingdoms of life.

    This is what I try to get across to Farmers, as to how I feel about the act of returning carbon to the soil. An act of penitence and thankfulness for the civilization we have created. Farmers are the Soil Sink Bankers, once carbon has a price, they will be laughing all the way to it.
    Unlike CCS which only reduces emissions, biochar systems draw down CO2 every energy cycle, closing a circle back to support the soil food web. The photosynthetic "capture" collectors are up and running, the "storage" sink is in operation just under our feet. Pyrolysis conversion plants are the only infrastructure we need to build out.

    To me, in the long run, the final arbiter / accountancy / measure of sustainability will be
    soil carbon content. Once this royal road is constructed, traffic cops ( Carbon Board ) in place, the truth of land-management and Biochar systems will be self-evident.

    Since we have filled the air , filling the seas to full, Soil is the Only Beneficial place left.
    Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

    Thanks for your efforts.
    Erich

    Erich J. Knight
    Chairman; Markets and Business Review Committee
    US BiocharConference, at Iowa State University, June 27-30
    http://www.biorenew.iastate.ed...

    EcoTechnologies Group Technical Adviser
    http://www.ecotechnologies.com...
    Shenandoah Gardens (Owner)
    1047 Dave Barry Rd.
    McGaheysville, VA. 22840
    540 289 9750
    Co-Administrator, Biochar Data base & Discussion list TP-REPP