I originally wrote this for DAILY KOS two years ago. Since then the technology and company that I describe here has progressed to such a degree that I am working on a followup. This is very important news and I present this with no edits so you have the backstory when my followup publishes soon.
Once a month or so a "HOLY GRAIL" of alternative fuel is unveiled only to quickly slip into the murky waters of failed science with Cold Fusion and New Coke. This exciting news from Cool Planet Energy Systems deserves at least an *asterix and I encourage you to read more for two reasons:
A.) There is already an All-Star lineup of investors including Google, Constellation Energy, G.E. and other A-listers predating this recent bombshell announcement. And...
B.) This really is a BOMBSHELL discovery, potentially on a par with Alexander Graham Bell and the phone, the Wright Bros and the plane, Al Gore and the internets ... It's that big!
Read this and let it sink in:
The Company achieved 4,000 gallons/acre biomass to gasoline conversion in pilot testing using giant miscanthus, an advanced bioenergy crop. Gasoline has about one and a half times the energy of ethanol, so this is about twelve times more yield than current corn ethanol production levels.
Yes, this process makes gasoline. From grass and cellulose. This is not ethanol. You can put it directly into your '72 Cutlass and get the same 7 miles a gallon as you did on high test ethyl. Chemically identical to gas and even if you get "only" 3000 gallons/acre you get 9 times the OMMPH! as you get from corn ethanol.
Now with a little back of the napkin math this means that you could meet our total gasoline needs with about 46 million acres of this great grass called Miscanthus. This newish weed grows most anywhere with very little effort and energy input but you can also make an even easier 1000 gallons from most residual foodcrop leftovers. If 46 million acres sounds like a lot, keep in mind that we USAans have close to a billion acres under till. In fact we have reduced the amount of farmed acreage by more than that amount over the past decades so this new fuel source doesn't need to take a cob of corn out of the grocery.
Oh, and it gets better.
The best and really, the only, way to remediate CO2 from the atmosphere is through photosynthesis. Plants scrub our air but then they die, lie and rot, passing much of the carbon back in the form of methane. Not this stuff:
The process creates ultra-high surface area carbon in an intermediate step of the conversion process. Some of this carbon can be diverted to form a very potent soil enhancer which can grow more crops and sequester carbon dioxide.
Translation: Instead of leaving us with biogarbage that leeches very bad gas back into our air we are left with pure carbon that can be plowed back into the earth, simultaneously fertilizing the land and sequestering carbon for a gosh darn long time. It is gasoline that can be made carbon negative, not neutral.
Yikes, and did I mention it's fast..... and cheap:
The total process time from biomass to fuel is under one hour. Total energy and biomass feedstock cost using today's commodity pricing is under 60 cents/gallon.
Cool Planet is already pumping out fuel to be fleet tested and should have multiple plants up and running in just a couple years. Upscaling this simple, low energy process can theoretically get us to a usable, bankable fuelsource in years, not decades.
Cross fingers because these claims often prove to be more alchemy than chemistry but a lot of the nations biggest energy bankers are already betting money on this being the real, NEXT BIG THING.
UPDATE & MEA CULPA:
Thanks for all the recs and comments. Please check out this presentation, dug up by commenter Windwardguy46 in which the CEO demonstrates for Google's Solve for X just what they are up to and how it works both for fuel and remediation. Great catch!
Yes, Bell invented the phone... brain fart. Yes, I like to misspell Asterisk.
I give this Cool Planet process a 20% chance of being the real deal, too many rabbit holes in the cellulosic search. However it does give a bright hope after a disappointing 2011 in the alternative fuel universe. Price competitive, carbon negative and rapidly upscaleable into our existing infrastructure. If it's not the magic bullet it is a terrific target.