This last year has seen a lot of attention for biofuels (both positive and negative). One company that managed to miss most of the attention was the startup Cool Planet Biofuels, but given its most recent announcement, it may start getting their time in the spotlight. Cool Planet Biofuels announced that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved tests of its new product, gasoline that it claims is “negative carbon.”
Synthetic Gas Is What, Exactly?
Before explaining exactly what it means by the phrase “negative carbon,” let me explain how Cool Planet produces its fuel. It don’t use ethanol or other traditional types of biofuel (if “traditional” is a word that can really be applied to this field!). Instead, Cool Planet manufactures synthetic gasoline that it claims is identical in every way to gasoline refined out of stuff piped out from underground.
The synthetic gas is produced using proprietary technology called a “biomass fractionator,” and, at the moment, the supply is very limited. It’s made from low-grade, non-food, cellulosic feedstock; cutting out the food vs. fuel debate entirely. The second question facing Cool Planet (after whether or not its fuel will pass the road tests) is whether or not it can increase production to meet demand.
Negative Carbon Footprint
The reason Cool Planet has dubbed its product “negative carbon” is its waste product; during the process, a solid carbon form that can be converted into fertilizer is formed and discarded. According to Cool Planet, the fertilizer can hold onto carbon dioxide, and as plants grow in the fertilizer and consume CO2 from the air, the car’s emissions are neutralized (in theory, anyway – you’d need a lot of plants).
Going back to the question of whether or not the synthetic gasoline will pass its road test, Cool Planet has several stages of testing planned. The first is a blend of the synthetic fuel plus standard California E-10 straight out of the pump. Depending on how that goes, Cool Planet’s fuel may be tested alone.
Whether Cool Planet’s fuel is ever used to replace gasoline depends on how far it gets in testing, and whether or not it can ramp up production. If either of those fail, crude oil from the ground won’t be replaced with its synthetic alternative. It is, however, a neat idea and a really big step for a startup. I’d like to see the company succeed. How about you? Let us know in the comments, below.
Charis Michelsen spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissin, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.