Sometimes the ‘dead man walking‘ has been falsely convicted, and sometimes he receives a stay of execution. Since I would never want to unfairly convict someone, I had a long and detailed conversation this morning with Wes Bolsen, the Chief Marketing Officer & Vice President of Coskata. Wes was offering up additional evidence to show that my conclusion that Coskata would not be economically viable was incorrect. He was quite open, and gave me quite a bit of useful information.
I will say this. Wes knows his material. I learned an awful lot about their process that I have not seen publicly disclosed anywhere, and since (almost) everything was on the record, I will disclose it. However, there are a couple of loose ends I need to tie up around the energy balance as there is an issue there that is unresolved for me. I will attempt to do an energy balance around the process to resolve it.
I am going to write up the details of the conversation and publish it as quickly as I can, but for now here were the questions I had in hand when I started my discussion with him. I provided the questions to him beforehand, as it was not my intention to ambush him, but instead to get good answers.
Below is the list of questions I had in hand. I did not expect him to answer all of them, but he did answer most of them. I adjusted as we went through, but this will give you a flavor of what was on my mind. I will write up the summary by tomorrow at the latest.
Questions for Coskata
1. What is the nature of your IP? The process? The microorganisms? Do you have specific patents or applications filed? If so, what are the numbers?
2. Is your ultimate objective to build plants or to license technology?
3. Who has built a commercial gasification project recently? Why aren’t more gasification projects being built?
4. Do you intend to completely outsource your gasification? What is the nature of that relationship? Do you just pay for syngas?
5. Is anyone commercially using the plasma gasification technology to produce fuel?
6. The temperature – 5500C – is much higher than the flame temperature of the biomass. How is that temperature maintained at such a high level? Isn’t it incredibly energy intensive to maintain the temperature?
7. Can you break down the costs to come up with $1/gal?
8. What does GM get for their investment?
9. Are your microorganisms bacteria or yeast?
10. What are the major capital cost items in the full-sized plant?
11. What is the ultimate yield of syngas to ethanol?
12. What are the byproducts? Selectivity to ethanol?
13. What is the concentration of ethanol in the aqueous stream going to purification?
14. Is anyone commercially using the membrane separation technology for ethanol purification?
15. What sort of feedstock costs are you assuming for your $1/gal estimate? Or are you just assuming a fixed cost for syngas, and then the particular feedstock can be anything carbon?
16. What is the required composition of your syngas? Are there particular impurities that are detrimental to the process (like hydrogen sulfide)?
17. Despite the fact that syngas is a very commonly produced raw material, nobody is using it in this way to produce ethanol. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to do a gas phase reaction to something like methanol, versus producing an aqueous solution that must be distilled?
18. Is the plant being designed by ICM? What sort of guarantees do you have?
19. Tell me about the scale/duration of your piloting on the project? How did you make the syngas?
20. Why would you include a year of operating costs in a capital estimate?
21. When you amortize the cost of the facility and add in a return on the investment, what would the selling price of the ethanol need to be?
22. What is the energy efficiency of the process? How many BTUs of ethanol are made per BTU of syngas? How many BTUs of energy input are required?