The collaboration aims to create new biofuels that can be used at high blend rates in standard gasoline engines in place of fossil fuels. This could potentially eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure, new engine designs and blending equipment.
The patented and trademarked BioForming process pioneered by Virent Energy Systems, Inc. of Madison converts plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules like those produced at a petroleum refinery. The biomass feedstocks are converted into conventional hydrocarbon fuels and products, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
"The technical properties of today's biofuels pose some challenges to widespread adoption," said Dr. Graeme Sweeney, Shell executive vice president Future Fuels and C02. "Fuel distribution infrastructure and vehicle engines are being modified to cope but new fuels on the horizon, such as Virent's, with characteristics similar or even superior to gasoline and diesel, are very exciting."
Virent's Dr. Randy Cortright holds a beaker of the company's biogasoline. (Photo courtesy Shell)
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 companies said Wednesday in a statement.
The sugars can be sourced from non-food sources like corn stover, switchgrass, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp, in addition to conventional biofuel feedstock like wheat, corn and sugarcane.
The companies have so far collaborated for one year on the research. They say the technology has advanced rapidly, exceeding milestones for yield, product composition, and cost.
Future efforts will focus on further improving the technology and scaling it up for larger volume commercial production.
Dr. Randy Cortright, Virent chief technology officer, 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," said Cortright.
Virent has 68 employees located in a state-of-the-art catalytic biorefining development facility in Madison. The technology is based on the Aqueous Phase Reforming process, which Virent has exclusively licensed from the Wisconsin Alumni Redation.
Cortright says the biogasoline process delivers more net energy and offers a scalable, cost-effective alternative to traditional biofuel production routes.
Headquartered in the Netherlands and the UK, Royal Dutch Shell companies have operations in more than 130 countries, with businesses including: oil and gas exploration; production and marketing of liquefied natural gas and gas to liquids; marketing and shipping of oil products and chemicals; and renewable energy projects including wind, solar and biofuels.
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