Martin LaMonica

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Google Fleet Gives "Carbon Negative" Fuel a Ride

Startup Cool Planet Energy Systems signs on Google to test its biofuel, which is able to meet California’s upcoming low-carbon fuel standard.

  • October 24, 2012

Given the many setbacks for advanced biofuels, it’s easy to be wary of claims of low-cost, low-emissions fuels that don’t compete with the food supply. But Cool Planet Energy Systems has signed on a list of impressive investors and Google as a test customer.

Cool Planet Biofuels intends to make “microrefineries” to lower the cost of transporting biomass.

Cool Planet Energy Systems today said that Google has been using its biofuel with fleet vehicles that delivers employees to Google’s Mountain View, California campus. Google Ventures is also an investor along with GE, ConocoPhilips, utility NRG, and BP Technology Ventures. 

The fuel, made from corn cobs and stover, can help meet requirements for California’s low-carbon fuel standard, according to Cool Planet Energy Systems CEO Howard Janzen who joined the company in May of this year. Making a five percent blend with its fuel lowers the carbon intensity of gasoline by ten percent, Janzen said.

The company has a pilot facility in Camarillo, California where it’s testing different feedstocks, including chopped up corn stover, wood chips, and giant miscanthus. It intends to raise money later this year for a full-scale operation able to make ten million gallons a year in 2014, Janzen said.

Founded by serial entrepreneur and inventor Mike Cheiky, Cool Planet Energy Systems claims that it biofuel can actually result in a net CO2 reduction because its process yields both a fuel and biochar, a soil amendment that sequesters carbon and acts as a fertilizer.

The technology works by compressing and heating biomass between two plates in a device called a fractionator. That mechanical process produces a gas which is then treated with catalysts to liquefy it into reformate, which is blended with gasoline. The original biomass is turned into biochar, or charcoal, which the company intends to sell as well.

The company’s plan it to make relatively small and potentially mobile refineries that can treat biomass from a 30 mile surrounding area, which should lower biomass transportation costs. “There’s not a lot more involved for on-site preparation beyond pouring a concrete slab and bringing in power, or we could do power on site,” said Janzen.

The projected cost for its fuel is $1.50 a gallon and $5 a gallon in capital to build its facilties, Janzen said, one of the reasons he joined the company after working in energy and telecom industries. “Because of the technology and the economics that it appears that it can deliver, it just makes for a compelling business plan,” he said. “It comes down to execution.”

If it can execute, Cool Planet Energy Systems won’t be wanting for customers: Janzen said its investors have already signed on for off-take agreements. 

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