GM Launches Partnership with Start-up to Commercialize Biofuels

GM Launches Partnership with Start-up to Commercialize Biofuels

General Motors has announced a partnership with Coskata to commercialize its process for turning biomass into ethanol. The partnership, announced at the Detroit Motor Show over the weekend, involves an equity share in Coskata, Inc., a renewable energy company with the means to produce low-cost ethanol from virtually a wide range of feedstocks, including biomass, municipal solid waste, wood chips, even used car tires.

"GM has been at the forefront of developing and promoting ethanol and ethanol-capable vehicles to reduce petroleum consumption and emissions," said Beth Lowery, GM vice president, Environment, Energy and Safety Policy.

"We believe ethanol used as a fuel, not just as a gasoline additive, is the best near-term alternative to the surging global demand for oil because ethanol is renewable and it significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to gasoline," she said. "Best of all, it is available today."

After working alongside ethanol producers to develop fuel formulations to provide optimum performance in vehicle engines, GM began promoting ethanol more than two decades ago and was the first manufacturer to enable its entire U.S. fleet to operate on E10, a blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol.

Globally, GM has about 3.5 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Brazil. About 2.5 million are capable of operating on any percentage of gasoline and ethanol, up to 85 percent ethanol (E85). Another 1 million are in Brazil, where more than 90 percent of the vehicles GM sells run on 100-percent ethanol, known as E100. GM produces more than 1 million flex-fuel vehicles a year globally.

GM has committed to doubling North American flex-fuel vehicle production from 400,000 to 800,000 by 2010 and to make half of its vehicles flex-fuel-capable by 2012.

Coskata, founded in 2006, claims it can produce ethanol for under $1 per gallon from almost any carbon-containing feedstock, while reducing greenhouse gas emission by 84% compared to gasoline, using only 1 gallon of water for each gallon ethanol produced, and returning 7.7 times as much energy as is used in the production process.

The company says it will open a 40,000-gallon-per-year pilot plant this year and will line up partnerships with other companies to build $400 million facilities that each could produce 100 million gallons a year as soon as late 2010. Coskata says that by 2015 or 2016, it expects to be building 20 to 25 such plants a year.

In addition to the Coskata partnership, GM is working with universities, businesses and non-governmental organizations to promote the benefits of E85 at a grassroots level. GM has played a significant role in raising E85 awareness in 15 states and has helped open 300 E85 refueling stations in the last two years.

The U.S. is the largest market using fuels blended with ethanol; however, its use as a fuel source is gaining global popularity as a more environmentally responsible option to petroleum-based fuels. GM has developed market-specific engines and vehicles that allow consumers to benefit from the use of earth-friendly ethanol fuels produced and available in their country.

Brazil is the best example of the market potential for alternative fuels. Since 1975, Brazil has been using ethanol made from sugar cane to create self-sufficiency in motor vehicle fuels.

The Saab 9-5 BioPower is another example of GM applying its ethanol learnings globally. During the development of BioPower, Swedish engineers teamed with their GM colleagues in Brazil to transfer knowledge of flex fuels. As a result, Saab now leads the European premium car segment in offering the 9-5 BioPower model, which accounts for 70 percent of all 9-5 sales.