LivingstonPatch: Exelus, Inc. is leading the nation in a new green technology to convert biomass to fuel
Imagine filling your gas tank with a pile of sawdust, getting behind the wheel and driving across the country. Sounds impossible, right?
This seemingly far-fetched scenario was presented by Levingston, New Jersey's own Exelus, Inc. The company is on the cutting edge of developing a technology that converts biomass, such as sawdust, into a usable fuel.
Earlier this month it was announced that Exelus will receive federal funding, including an award from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for its innovation.
"The small Livingston-based firm is putting the nation on a course that will reduce foreign oil imports, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and even reduce our dependence on off-shore oil drilling," said a press release.
This is the third grant to be awarded to the 13-person company.
Last fall, Exelus beat out billion dollar enterprises, including General Electric and General Motors and Ivy League research universities, to win two other highly competitive research grants.
The first is a $1.2 million ARPA-E grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. There were 3,600 applicants and just 37 grants awarded.
Then Exelus was awarded a second grant by the DoE and U.S. Department of Agriculture designed to fund high risk bio-fuel technologies. This time, they were among 24 companies who beat out 2,200 applicants for a grant.
In the nine months since receiving the grants, Exelus has "made tremendous progress," Exelus president Mitrajit Mukherjee says.
But how do they do it?
Mukherjee, a chemical engineer, makes the process sound simple.
"All the oil that you use today was essentially biomass many millions of years ago. Nature cooked it over long period of time, we're trying to speed it up cheaply using catalysts," he explains. "What takes nature millions of years to accomplish, we can do in about an hour."
Further, the Exelus bio-fuel is efficient for cars.
"Because it is not ethanol based, it's different from other bio-fuels. It is a simple gasoline substitute," he adds, "You wouldn't have to sacrifice your fuel efficiency."
Mukherjee expects that the Exelus product will be in high demand in the not too distant future.
Why is Exelus different?
"There are many companies trying to do this, and there are really two approaches right now: the high temperature gasification approach, where the biomass is cooked under high temperatures (1000-degrees Celcius)," Mukherjee explains, "and a second method, using enzymes are done at room temperature."
The equipment needed for the high temperature method is extremely costly, he says, while that using enzymes takes many days to accomplish, so Exelus is converting the biomass at temperatures "somewhere in the middle."
He emphasizes that the Exelus method is not at all harmful to the environment. The biomass all comes from waste, never from living organisms or food sources.
Exelus is currently producing the fuel at $1.60 per gallon, though it would be about the same as current rates by the time it reaches a pump.
And another bonus? The bio-fuel smells of burnt sugar when used as fuel.
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