Oil giant invests in Coskata

By Anna Austin
French oil supermajor Total S.A. has invested in Warrenville, Ill.-based cellulosic ethanol company Coskata Inc., leading the company's Series C-Prime funding round. Total will now have a seat on Coskata's board of directors.

Total says the investment is part of the company's strategy to prepare for an energy transition, which involves supporting the development of innovative start-ups through its Corporate Venture Activity. Also participating in the transaction were several of Coskata's prior investors, including Blackstone Cleantech Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures, Advanced Technology Ventures, Globespan Capital Partners, and Arancia.

Coskata made its initial public debut at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, when General Motors Co. announced it had taken an undisclosed ownership stake in the company. Last October, together with GM and plasma gasification company Alter NRG Corp., Coskata officially unveiled its $25 million semi-commercial cellulosic ethanol facility near Madison, Pa., and soon after announced plans for a commercial facility that will be located in the Southeast U.S.

Developed by Oklahoma State University and University of Oklahoma researchers, Coskata's process technology is capable of converting multiple biomass feedstocks, including woody biomass, agricultural waste, energy crops, and construction and industrial wastes, into synthesis gas. The syngas is cleaned, cooled and passed through a conversion process, where it undergoes bacterial fermentation using Coskata's proprietary microorganisms. The microorganisms consume the carbon monoxide and hydrogen in the syngas stream, and the resulting ethanol is recovered from the solution.