Hot, hot, hot. It almost sounds too good to be true: Using solar power to create fuel. It’s called solar biomass gasification, a concept and process that’s been around for a while, mostly in university research and scientific circles. A relatively new company that has emerged from that university research environment, Sundrop Fuels Inc., apparently has the drop on making a commercial go of it.
CEO Wayne Simmons puts what the company is about quite succinctly: “We’re going to convert the Sun’s energy into liquid fuel using concentrated solar power to gasify biomass, then convert the resulting syngas into green gasoline or diesel.”
The solar gasification renewable energy company says it has developed a high-temperature process that “turns any kind of plant material into ultra-clean, affordable liquid transportation fuel” for use in today’s cars, diesel engines and aircraft.
“Unlike other methods that burn considerable amounts of feedstock to generate the immense heat needed for gasification, we have the first process that converts all of the biomass into actual fuel.
“This efficiency positions us to compete directly with petroleum products by producing ultra-clean renewable advanced biofuels for an estimated unsubsidized cost of less than $2 per gallon.”
Alan Weimer, Sundrop’s chief technology officer calls the process a “renewable, thermochemical sledgehammer” because of the ultra-high temperatures the company is working with. “We’re trailblazing a new energy source at the interface of solar power and biomass conversion.”
The process, the company continues, represents the “best possible use of the world’s environmental, economic and energy resources.”
Core elements of the technology were developed by and are licensed through the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Sundrop Fuels’ predecessor company, Solarec, began developing concentrated solar technology a decade ago with scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Based in Louisville, CO, Sundrop raised its initial founding capital in 2008 through Amp Capital, and then raised $20 million from venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Oak Investment Partners. In June of that year it acquired Copernican Energy Inc., a technology transfer spinoff firm from the University of Colorado involved in solar-driven, high temperature chemistry. After completing construction of a three-acre solar research facility in Broomfield, CO in September 2009, Sundrop began operations at 80 kW (thermal).
How large-scale and mainstream this can go is the big question. In this case it’s not the heat, it’s the really, really high heat that can make the difference. And maybe this heat will shed a powerful light on the future of energy and fuel.
Hey BP – here’s a way to live up to the core of your logo and that “Beyond Petroleum” thing.