Venture Capital Eyes Biomass Gasification to Make Ethanol

Khosla associate makes case for alternative to biochemical approach

3 min read

10 July 2008--For decades government-backed scientists have presumed that the best way to produce ethanol from biomass is a biochemical conversion--first enzymes turn the plant cellulose into sugars, and then the sugars ferment into alcohol. But lately a number of firms have been touting an alternative way to make ethanol: gasify the biomass first, and then convert the resulting syngas to liquid. In theory, at least, this thermochemical conversion isn't restricted to biomass; anything with carbon in it--coal, tires, plastic bags--could be processed into liquid fuels.

Significantly, several of the biomass gasification entrepreneurs are funded by Khosla Ventures, the clean-tech venture financing shop in Menlo Park, Calif. Khosla is in fact betting heavily on gasification: three of the four ethanol producers in the firm's publicly announced portfolio are proposing to convert biomass to liquid fuels in this manner. One Khosla-backed firm, Range Fuels, broke ground last year on a plant in Georgia, and when that plant opens in late 2009, it will produce some 80 million liters of liquid fuels from wood chips.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

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