The company Cool Planet Energy Systems has an intriguing idea about biofuel: instead of churning out fuel from large, central refineries, Cool Planet would rather manufacture modular, shippable micro-biorefineries and sell them to you for on-site biofuel production. According to Cool Planet, the system can produce biofuel for only $1.50 per gallon.
According to Cool Planet, Google has been testing its micro-biorefinery by using a blend of 5 percent biofuel and 95 percent gasoline on a campus vehicle at its Mountain View, CA headquarters.
So far, the vehicle has traveled more than 2,400 miles while meeting California's new low carbon fuel standard, which is not scheduled to go into effect until 2020.
The vehicle, called GRide, has also passed comparative tests for smog and fuel efficiency against a control car running on 100 percent gasoline.
Before you get too excited, keep in mind that the Cool Planet system is at its maximum efficiency for sites that have ready access to local feedstock, which cuts transportation costs cut to a minimum. However, the system also has some additional benefits that could still make it an attractive option.
One illustration is provided by a system developed by the company Biodico, which is going to install a modular, shippable biorefinery at a U.S. Navy station in California.
Biodico's system represents a holistic approach to biofuel costs. The price of the liquid fuel is partly offset by reclaiming energy co-generated by the refining process, for use in the naval station's microgrid. There is also some potential for producing marketable by-products.
Similarly, Cool Planet's system produces biochar, a soil enhancer that does double duty as a highly effective form of carbon capture. In fact, biochar is so effective at carbon capture that Cool Planet claims it makes its micro-biorefinery a net carbon-negative process.
That give biochar a significant bottom line value whether it is marketed for cash, or donated or used on site to promote a company's green cred.
Since the system can draw on a variety of local feedstocks, it has the potential to be cost-efficient practically anywhere in the U.S
In that regard, it's no surprise that Cool Planet's technology has caught Google's eye, as well as other companies with far-flung operations including General Electric, BP, ConocoPhillips, NRG and Exelon.
The modular, scalable technology also dovetails with a broader trend toward distributed energy production, which the Obama Administration has been encouraging along with the development of non-food feedstocks including waste grease and algae biofuel.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.