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.)
Georgia Tech: Small Diameter Pine to Ethanol