BY TODD WOODY
Google Ventures has led a $20 million financing round in CoolPlanetBiofuels, a Southern California start-up that is developing mobile refineries to turn wood chips, agriculture waste and other biomass into biofuels.
CoolPlanetBiofuels, an 18-month-old company, has also attracted the attention ofConocoPhillips, GE Capital and NRG Energy, which participated in the financing round along with North Bridge Venture Partners.
CoolPlanetBiofuels declined to disclose the total capital that it had raised, but it noted that Google Ventures was a major participant in the series B round announced Thursday.
“We take biomass such as corncobs, yard clippings wood chips and fractionate that biomass into discrete gas streams,” said Mike Cheiky, CoolPlanetBiofuels’ chief executive and a longtime technology executive. “Those individual gas streams aren’t really useful by themselves, so we run them through catalytic conversion columns that convert them to useful fuels.”
One limitation of using biomass as a feedstock for biofuels has been the expense of trucking low-value waste long distances to a refinery. So CoolPlanetBiofuels plans to take the refineries to the fuel source by packaging its machines in tractor-trailers.
“Biomass cannot be transported very far because in raw form it has a very low energy content,” Mr. Cheiky said.
He said a typical refinery would consist of a cluster of tractor-trailers that can process 10 million gallons of fuel a year.
“There’s a very large market opportunity here with a lot of headroom for innovation,” said Bill Maris, Google Ventures’ managing director. “These are early days and this space won’t end up with a single winner but any progress Mike and CoolPlanet can make will have a profoundly positive impact on consumers, the industry and the world.”
So far CoolPlanetBiofuels has built a small pilot plant that is producing biofuel for evaluation by oil companies, Mr. Cheiky said. He declined to identify the companies, citing a confidentiality agreement. The company expects to have its first one-million gallon mobile refinery operating within a year.
Mr. Cheiky said CoolPlanetBiofuels would initially make a 105-octane gasoline additive to help refiners meet California’s low-carbon fuel standard.
“We can produce an additive to reduce the carbon footprint and increase the octane of conventional gasoline,” he said.
Next up will be a biofuel that can run in conventional gasoline engines. Eventually, CoolPlanetBiofuels intends to produce a soil additive as a byproduct of the refinery process.
“We can sequester carbon as we make the fuel and make a soil enhancer for crops,” Mr. Cheiky said. “We will have a negative-carbon fuel.”