Shell and Virent convert plant sugars directly into biogasoline

Strangely this press release didn’t appear to get much coverage in Australia or many other countries for that matter. What’s it all about?  Shell and Virent have been collaborating for a year on technology that can convert plant sugars directly into petrol and petrol blend components, rather than ethanol.

Virent’s BioForming™ platform technology uses catalysts to convert plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules like those produced at a petroleum refinery.  Traditionally, sugars have been fermented into ethanol and distilled.  These new ‘biogasoline’ molecules have higher energy content than ethanol (or butanol) and deliver better fuel efficiency.  They can be blended seamlessly to make conventional gasoline or combined with gasoline containing ethanol.

The BioForming™ page on Virents web site says that their technology produces gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels with twice the net energy yield per acre as traditional ethanol processes and that gasoline made via the BioForming™ process will enjoy a 20% to 30% per BTU cost advantage over ethanol.

The companies have so far collaborated for one year on the research.  The BioForming™ technology has advanced rapidly, exceeding milestones for yield, product composition, and cost.

Virent liquid fuel laboratory

Future efforts will focus on further improving the technology and scaling it up for larger volume commercial production.

Dr. Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and C02 said

New fuels on the horizon, such as Virent’s, with characteristics similar or even superior to gasoline and diesel, are very exciting.

Dr. Randy Cortright, Virent CTO, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President said:

Virent has proven that sugars can be converted into the same hydrocarbon mixtures of today’s gasoline blends.  Our products match petroleum gasoline in functionality and performance. Virent’s unique catalytic process uses a variety of biomass-derived feedstocks to generate biogasoline at competitive costs.  Our results to date fully justify accelerating commercialization of this technology.

While this technology faces the same fuel for food issues any plant sugar based fuel technology faces I would have thought that turning plants directly into a gasoline substitute would be big news.

Source: Shell

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