Biofilm, Bugs and Bioreactors: The IP Behind Coskata’s New Biofuel Facility

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In a previous post, I wrote about Coskata’s patent-pending ethanol production process.  The Illinois-based cellulosic ethanol company’s proprietary technology makes ethanol from various feedstocks by converting it to synthesis gas, or syngas, and then fermenting the gas using anaerobic microorganisms.

Coskata owns Patent Application Publication Nos. 2008/0305539 and 2008/0305540, directed to a membrane supported bioreactor system for converting syngas to biofuels (collectively “Bioreactor Applications”). 

According to the Bioreactor Applications, the disclosed processes boost efficiency by using one side of a membrane as the syngas contact surface and the opposite side as the surface for growing the microorganisms.  The gas is fed onto the contact side and transported through the membrane to a biofilm of anaerobic microorganisms, where it is fermented into biofuels.

Last month, Coskata opened a semi-commercial ethanol facility in Madison, Pennsylvania that makes ethanol using the company’s microorganisms and bioreactor technology.  According to the company’s press release, the flex facility will produce ethanol from numerous feedstocks, including wood biomass, agricultural waste, sustainable energy crops and construction waste.

To build the facility, Coskata teamed up with Westinghouse Plasma Corporation, which suppled the gasification technology for the project.

I had the opportunity to speak to Wes Bolsen, Coskata’s CMO, about the new facility, the company’s technology and the company’s IP.  He confirmed that the Pennsylvania facility uses Coskata’s patent-pending bioreactor technology.

Bolsen also told me that Coskata has patents directed to microorganisms used in the fermentation process, but that the company favors trade secret protection for some of the newer strains of “bugs,” including some of those used in the new facility.

According to Bolsen, Coskata “will continue with patents, trade secrets and whatever combination of the two” the company needs.  “Our IP is the core of this business,” he said.  “Our IP and innovation is what keeps us ahead in the industry.”

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Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.