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Chevron and NREL Ally to Advance Cellulosic Biofuels

4 October 2006

Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV) and the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have formed a strategic research alliance to advance the development of renewable transportation fuels.

Under a five-year agreement, researchers from CTV and NREL will collaborate on projects to develop the next generation of process technologies that will convert cellulosic biomass, such as forestry and agricultural wastes, into biofuels such as ethanol and renewable diesel.

The alliance with NREL is the third biofuels research partnership launched by Chevron this year. In September, CTV formed a research partnership with UC Davis (earlier post); in June, the company announced a partnership with Georgia Tech (earlier post).

Through this public-private collaboration we hope to broaden the energy mix by accelerating the development of the next generation of process technologies that will convert cellulosic biomass into biofuels. Process efficiency and suitability for industrial-scale deployment, similar to today’s transportation infrastructure systems, are key success factors.

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

CTV also will fund research that complements DOE-sponsored work at NREL on bio-oil reforming, a process by which bio-oils derived from the decomposition of biological feedstocks are then converted into hydrogen. This research may expedite the development of a feed-flexible, distributed-reforming process for renewable hydrogen production as well as provide the hydrogen necessary in some potential biofuels conversion technologies.

We believe that for the next generation of biofuels production to become commercially viable there must be flexibility to diversify the feedstocks, and the processes by which the biofuels are produced must also increase in efficiency and effectiveness. This research will address both of these fundamental challenges.

—Rick Zalesky, vice president, Biofuels and Hydrogen, CTV

October 4, 2006 in Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL), Cellulosic ethanol, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)


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As I suspected: In future we will be buying biofuels from the same oil companies. Ethanol? Yeah, right. Renewable diesel cannot, and need not be distinguished from fossil diesel, as far as the customer is concerned. Same hydrocarbon fuels, minus the aromatics and the sulfur, but from a renewable source!

Yes, but due to arable land limits biofuels neatly preserve the value of fossil fuels; they can never replace a significant fraction of fossil hydrocarbons.

Pull your head out of the sand, Ron - according to the DOE/USDA we can replace a third of our transportation oil with biofuels from agricultural and forestry waste. Note, the bulk of this would be existing production, i.e. no new resources needed to grow these "crops".

I agree, converting food->fuel (as is done with corn ethanol) is a terrific waste and unsustainable. But that is not what we are talking about here. Read the fine print: "cellulosic biomass", i.e. inedibles.

Yeah! we should get our biofuels from the hallmark card company and not evil oil.

It would be neat if we found a way to use the Royal Empress or Bamboo in large scale farms, this would be perfect for biomass. A more modern approach to ethynol may be a great application for these plants also. Bamboo has been reported to grow 3 feet a day. The Royal Empress has one of the fastest rates of carbon uptake of any tree. You can get a 10 foot tree in one season and a 25 foot tree in 3 years from Royal Empress. Thats a large biomass and with it being a very heavy feeder and soil cleaner a great place for sewageplant solids. If done in batch enclosed hydroponic systems waterusage can be cut by up to 90%. Arizona deseret anyone?

It seems odd to me that Iogen was big on cellulose with enzymes. Then they were too expensive, but they found a way to make them cheaper. But you needed a steam explosion process to preprocess the straw and you needed coal or natural gas to create the mash and distilling heat. Why not just gasify the straw using the tar as fuel and you can make what ever you want.?

Chevron will naturally be involved in this process, as well as all the other oil companies. However, is it an effort at greenwashing and scaring other less well funded players out of the risk, or worse, developing IP that can be kept on the shelf.

Loose the it's-all-a-conspiracy view, please. Oil companies are in it for the money. With the remaining oilfields all (seemingly) headed for nationalization, they are going to have to find alternatives to oil. The only question: can biomass compete with coal? Let's hope it can!

Right on! Producing renewable gasoline and diesel is obviously preferable to producing ethanol.

My point was we should focus on waste first. Once we get close to exhausting this source, we can look at energy crops. Here I believe algae beats anything else hands down, it produces something like 30x the biomass you can get from any higher plant. As I have stated before, integrating algal ponds with sewage treatment would exploit huge synergies: free fertilizer for the algae, that can be recovered after gasification (renewable fertilizer), clean water as a byproduct, less energy used for wastewater cleaning, etc.

Sorry - this sounds like a MAJOR conflict of interest to me.

Does anyone consider it a possibility that Chevron will be in a position to steer biofuel research AWAY from truly revolutionary progress? Why don't we put wolves in charge of all the chicken coops...?

I think this "collaboration" will delay implementation not accelerate it. After all, Chevron makes money for its shareholders as it keeps oil prices high. A revolutionary fix will be bad for Chevron shareholders. Sure maybe they could make money through a slow transition to biofuels - but not a fast one.

In my opinion, the solution to ethanol production already exists (see BRI Energy) and is ready for commercial scale-up deployment. Why give Chevron a say on the deal?

That was one confusing post! Please explain how:
1. Chevron would increase profits by sticking to oil if there is a large scale move to biofuels (assuming it happens)? This would leave them behind, won't it?
2. Does Chevron gain anything by spending money on biofuel, while trying to "delay implementation"? Again, in a free market they get left behind.
3. Does Chevron keep oil prices high, if others bring biofuels to the market? That would mean that loose market share -> unhappy shareholders!
4. Does Chevron have any say about what BRI Energy does?

Considering NREL's budget has been cut further every year for 5 years in a row, maybe this is a funding source, so that they do not have to close the doors for good. It may be kind of like having the drug companies fund part of the FDA, which is what they did years ago. Seems like a conflict of interest? You are darn right. It is!

We'll see. I stick to my prediction: We will eventually buy biofuels from the same oil companies who are racking in our dollars right now! We can only hope less of it would be heading for the Middle East...

I see oil companies as mineral companies. They may buy coal and natural gas holdings, but biofuels is not their thing.

Fair enough. OTOH, I see oil companies as energy suppliers. When they see they customers getting interested in renewable energy, the start looking at it. Once they start looking, they may find that, hey, this might actually work.

As I said before, opportunities for drilling are getting scarcer, at a time demand keeps increasing. If I was head of an oil company, I would be very interested to know what the alternatives to drilling may be.

Assuming that renewable fuels do take off (big assumption, I know), do you expect oil companies to simply watch their share of the fuel market plummet, the way GM is currently doing in the auto market? I don't. Also, who better to bring the investment $$$ needed to get biofuels going?

This obviously depends on the company. Right now, Exxon-Mobil seems to be saying, we looked at this in the seventies. It didn't pan out then, it won't pan out now. Shell and BP (as well as Chevron, according to this article) seem to be taking a different approach. According to my view then, Exxon-Mobil is the GM of the fuel business...

I would agree that to the extent that if they need E5 or E10 ethanol, they would rather make it than buy it. But the whole product value chain is not theirs, they are not ADM. They know exploration, drilling, shipping and refining. I don't think they know which way it is going to go...EV, hydrogen? (that is the direction the present administration pushes tax payer money towards, even though their party's slogan is.. "government should not pick winners and losers")

DME is an LPG-like synthetic fuel can be produced through gasification of Biomass. The synthetic gas is then catalyzed to produce DME. A gas under normal pressure and temperature, DME can be compressed into a liquid and used as an alternative to diesel. Its low emissions make it relatively environmentally friendly. In fact, Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and will be sharing their experience at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:

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