GE unit invests in biofuels producer

Cool Planet Biofuels, a start-up that converts plant waste into biofuel, scores $8 million in funding via GE joint partnership with North Bridge Venture Partners. GE gets a seat on the board.

GE subsidiary GE Energy Financial Services and North Bridge Venture Partners will invest $8 million in a company developing a biofuel production process coupled with the production of biochar.

Cool Planet Biofuels converts cellulosic byproducts like plant waste and woodchips into biofuel that can be used in vehicles.

Cool Planet Biofuels seems to be developing a process similar to that of Carbonscape, a New Zealand company that produces this biochar as a byproduct of its cellulosic biofuel process. Carbonscape

The company's byproduct from the process is biochar, or manmade coal as some call it, which just like conventional charcoal can be burned for fuel. It's something the company says qualifies its biofuel process as being carbon neutral.

The biochar can also be buried in the ground serving as both a form of carbon sequestration and soil conditioner for farmland. When put to that use the biofuel can be considered to have a N100 rating (100 percent carbon negative), according to Cool Planet Biofuels.

It's similar to a process touted in 2009 by a New Zealand start-up. Carbonscape also makes biofuel with biomass coal as a carbon sequestration byproduct that can be buried in the ground. Carbonscape's biochar can also be burned for fuel.

In addition to the gasoline cellulose-to-biofuel conversion, Cool Planet Biofuels has said it's also developing a one-step catalytic conversion that could yield synthetic diesel or even high-octane gasoline.

The Camarillo, Calif.-based company, run by husband and wife team Mike and Charity Cheiky, has received $3 million in funding as part of this deal with another $5 million outstanding, according to the latest SEC filing.

While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, GE will be getting a seat on the board of Cool Planet Biofuels, according to North Bridge Venture Partners.

The investment certainly falls in line with GE's well-publicized goal announced in June that the company plans to invest $10 billion over the next five years in green-focused research and development projects.

Cool Planet Biofuels received $3.5 million in a first round of funding in November 2009. This past September, the company assembled a technical advisory board consisting of veterans from Chevron, DuPont, and Shell. Cool Planet Biofuels also seems to be looking to hire mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, machinists, lab technicians, and scientists with petrochemical experience, according to its Web site.

"The fuel market is one of the world's largest at about $4 trillion per year. Today, biofuels are only a tiny portion of that market, but are poised for rapid growth based on concerns about global warming and importing oil. Cool Planet's technology could be a major driver in expanding the use of low carbon footprint and locally sourced fuels," said Basil R. Horangic of North Bridge Venture Partners in a statement.

About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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