Virent Energy Systems, Inc., and oil giant Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) announced the startup of a first-of-its kind demonstration plant that converts plant sugars into gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol.
The demonstration plant, located at Virent’s facilities in Madison, Wisconsin, is the latest step in a joint biogasoline research and development effort announced in March 2008.
The demonstration plant has the capacity to produce up to 38,000 litres (10,000 U.S. gallons) per year, which will be used for engine and fleet testing. This new biofuel can be blended with gasoline in high concentrations for use in standard gasoline engines.
The new product has the potential to eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure, engine modifications, and blending equipment necessary for the use of gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol. Virent’s patented 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. Virent’s ‘biogasoline’ fuel molecules have higher energy content than ethanol and deliver better fuel economy. They can be blended seamlessly to make conventional gasoline or combined with gasoline containing ethanol. The sugars can be sourced from non-food feedstocks such as corn stover, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp, in addition to conventional biofuel feedstocks such as wheat, corn and sugarcane. The demonstration plant is currently using beet sugar.
“Moving from lab-scale to a demonstration production plant is an important milestone for biogasoline,’’ said Luis Scoffone, Vice President of Alternative Energies at Shell. ‘‘There is some way to go on the route to commercialization, but we have been delighted with the speed of progress achieved by our collaboration with Virent.’’
Virent counts Cargill and Honda (NYSE: HMC) among its leading investors.
Disclosure: no positions