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Gallon-a-dollar future in GM’s ethanol plan

General Motors has announced plans to invest in a new biotech company which can make a gallon of ethanol for a dollar. It will affect the way that everybody considers the next move on fuelling choice.

Rick Wagoner, the chief executive of GM, is annoyed that the US administration is not doing more to incentivise a shift away from oil dependency.

He therefore decided that GM should put in (an unspecified amount) of money when start-up business Coskata disclosed that it had taken a giant stride in the efficiency of ethanol production.

Wagoner’s view is that electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel stacks are the long-term answer to carbon dioxide reduction, but that will not help the short-term targets, political vulnerabilities and social responsibilities.

There needs to be a wholesale adoption of ethanol production and distribution networks and vehicles need to be sold that do not care what mix of petrol and ethanol they burn. Retrofits can be arranged for less than £100.

The Coskata system uses bacteria to digest vegetable waste such as the residue of sugar production from beet.

It can also digest household waste – plastics included – and the intention is to build £150 million refineries both in towns and close to suitable crops in the countryside. Coskata’s outlook for licensing refineries is global.

Ford’s collaboration with ethanol production in Sweden is finding that the traditional process is very lengthy and expensive in terms of electricity consumption.

If Coskata can deliver the savings it claims, ethanol is going to move to the head of the line of interim alternative fuels.

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