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Chevron Partners with Georgia Tech on Cellulosic Biofuels and Hydrogen

Chevron Corporation and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s have formed a strategic research alliance to pursue advanced technology aimed at making cellulosic biofuels and hydrogen viable transportation fuels.

Chevron Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of Chevron, will work with Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute and will contribute up to $12 million over five years for research into and development of these technologies.

The focus of the joint research is to develop commercially viable second-generation processes for the production of transportation fuels from renewable resources such as forest and agricultural waste. This is viewed as an important advancement over first-generation biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, which are made from agricultural crops such as corn, sugarcane and soybeans.

This research alliance underscores Chevron’s commitment to expand and diversify the world’s energy sources and represents an ambitious effort to achieve breakthrough technology in the development of cellulosic biofuels.

Beyond this project, Chevron in 2006 expects to spend approximately $400 million in the development of alternative and renewable energy technologies and in delivering energy efficiency solutions.

—Don Paul, vice president and chief technology officer, Chevron Corporation

The alliance will focus its research on four areas:

  • Production of cellulosic biofuels. The researchers will work with aqueous phase reforming to develop processes to convert biomass such as wood or switchgrass directly into hydrogen or hydrocarbon transportation fuels.

    Aqueous phase reforming is a different process with different output than those being developed by companies such as Iogen to produce cellulosic ethanol. Iogen’s process, for example, uses enzymatic hydrolysis to release the sugars from cellulosic biomass. (Earlier post.) Those sugars are then fermented into ethanol.

    Aqueous phase reforming uses water-soluble oxygenated compounds such as sugars, sugar alcohols, and glycerol. If biomass is the feedstock, it must first be converted into water-soluble compounds. But then the process uses low-temperature catalytic reforming to produce hydrogen or hydrocarbons.

    Virent, as an example, uses its patented aqueous phase reforming process to deliver a carbon-neutral, one-step method for on-demand production of hydrogen, natural gas and/or other fuel gases. (Earlier post.)

    Georgia Tech is already researching the enzymatic production of ethanol from wood.

    The Chevron-Georgia Tech study will help researchers determine the feasibility of producing commercial volumes of cellulosic biofuels or hydrogen from biomass and also understand the conditions needed for large-scale production facilities.

  • Understanding the characteristics of biofuels produced from different feedstocks and their effects on biofuel production processes. Defining the properties of various biofuels will help in the design of equipment and procedures to accommodate different feedstocks.

  • Developing regenerative sorbents. Sorbents are used in hydrogen production from natural gas to remove odorants that contain sulfur. They are usually costly and can be used only once. Scientists from Chevron and Georgia Tech are working to develop regenerative sorbents that can be used repeatedly, thereby reducing the cost of hydrogen production from natural gas.

  • Developing sorbents for the purification of hydrogen produced from natural gas reforming by the removal of gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Chevron recently formed a biofuels business unit to advance technology and pursue commercial opportunities related to the production and distribution of biofuels in the United States. (Earlier post.) Chevron also recently invested in a new biodiesel facility in Galveston, Texas, that will produce diesel fuel from soybeans and other renewable feedstocks. (Earlier post.)

Georgia Tech recently joined with Imperial College London, Georgia Tech and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in forming a strategic alliance—the AtlantIC Alliance—to research and promote the scientific and technological potential of biomass for energy. (Earlier post.)

Chevron competitor BP yesterday announced it will establish a $500-million Biofuels Research Center, and also became the first major integrated energy company to join the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). (Earlier post.)



Rafael Seidl

More good news on the biofuels research front. Note that they are looking for cellulosic biofuels, i.e. not neccessarily ethanol. Butanol, anyone?

Hydrogen is more difficult to handle as a motor fuel but there are plenty of uses for it in refineries, especially for heavy crudes and tar sands/shale oils. In that context, producing hydrogen from biomass seems a sensible step in the right direction, as it will take decades to get away from fossil fuels altogether (if ever).


Good news. But I think they are quite a bit late (5 years !! research alliance), notably regarding the cellulosic ethanol approach.

It is well known, that IOGEN (Canada) with its sponsors Shell and Petro Canada is going to build a (commercial scale) cellulosic ethanol plant in the US in 2007. More projects are in the pipeline. Their technology is ready and proven. The enzyme technology comes from Novozymes and Genencore.

Also: Abengoa (Spain) is actually constructing a commercial scale cellulosic plant in Salamanca (Spain). The enzyme technology comes from Sunopta (US). They (Abengoa) are planning to construct another plant in France.


Just a note -- the Chevron focus is not on cellulosic ethanol along the lines of IOGEN/Shell -- i.e., use enzymatic hydrolysis to release sugar from cellulosic biomass and then ferment it.

Aqueous phase reforming uses water-soluble oxygenated compounds such as sugars, sugar alcohols, and
glycerol. If using biomass as a feedstock, you need to first convert it into water-soluble compounds.

But then the process uses low-temperature catalytic reforming to produce hydrogen or hydrocarbons.

I'll amend the post to clarify.

An Engineer

This is great. Producing hydrocarbons from biomass is a huge step forward, compared to producing ethanol. It may take longer to reach commercial scale, but I would rather invest in this than cellulosic ethanol.

allen zheng

Is there a better source of biomass then switchgrass (per acre, btu, and native to US) besides waste biomass? How about globally?

An Engineer

Yes - Algae. See
To quote: "Enough biodiesel to replace all petroleum transportation fuels could be grown in 15,000 square miles"

allen zheng

I Mean Besides Algae oil. I have been lobbying for algae ever since I have learned about it. The issue issue is infrastructure. Is there a better crop (and indigenous to) than switchgrass for US. Repeat same question for world. Requirements: low impact, non invasive/foreign species, non gen modified (may be bred traditionally), high energy ratio, high yields per acre, and tolerant to adverse conditions. The point is a stopgap biofuel crop; cheap, easy to produce, easy on the environment, and a step towards oil/fuel from algae.


What if you get hydrogen from the biomass and take the CO2 and inject it back into the earth? The plants become a CO2 "sponge" that can reverse global warming.

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