We’ve heard a fair bit about BP’s investment in alternative fuels but what about Shell? Well, as it turns out they’ve been busy as well. Shell and Choren Industries, the German biofuel company have been developing SunFuel, a synthetic diesel made using a novel biomass-to-liquids (BTL) process. The big selling point of Sunfuel is that it will eradicate many of the current concerns about the biodiesel industry by using waste plant material as feedstock instead of valuable food crops.
Choren Industries also make SunDiesel, which is currently being introduced to the public arena in conjunction with DaimlerChrysler AG and Volkswagen. SunDiesel has a high cetane number and therefore much better ignition performance than conventional diesel fuel, has no aromatics or sulfur and significantly reduces pollutants from exhaust emissions, can be used without any adjustment to existing infrastructure or engine systems and is largely CO2 neutral.
According to The Australian Shell’s vice-president for strategy, Ken Fisher, admitted that the cost of BTL was still high compared with oil at $US60 to $US70 a barrel. But he was confident the company could bring down the price by producing much higher volumes.
At least two other companies are developing methods to produce ethanol from woodchips. Mascoma Corporation, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is building demonstration facilities that will have the capacity to produce about half a million to two million gallons of ethanol a year from waste biomass.
Scientists from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology have designed a plant aimed at producing ethanol from wood chips. The pilot plant is designed to produce 1 million gallons of fuel a year and could lead to a plant that would eventually produce as much as 20 million gallons of the fuel each year, using wood chips and wood residue as base material.