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Chevron and NREL to Collaborate on Research to Produce Transportation Fuels, Including Jet Fuel, using Algae

31 October 2007

Chevron Corporation and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have entered into a collaborative research and development agreement to study and advance technology to produce liquid transportation fuels using algae.

Chevron and NREL scientists will collaborate to identify and develop algae strains that can be economically harvested and processed into finished transportation fuels, such as jet fuel. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA, will fund the initiative.

The new research project announced today is the second under a five-year strategic biofuels research alliance between Chevron and NREL announced in October 2006. The first involves bio-oil reforming, a process by which bio-oils derived from the decomposition of biological feedstocks are then converted into hydrogen and biofuels. (Earlier post.)

We are extremely pleased to join Chevron in this path-breaking research. NREL operated the Aquatic Species Program for the Department of Energy for nearly 20 years, giving us unique insights into the research required to produce cost-effective fuels from algal oils or lipids. Our scientists have the advanced tools and the experience to rapidly increase the yield and productivity of key species of algae. In Chevron we have found an ideal research partner with the skills and knowledge to transform these algal lipids to cost-competitive fuels and to distribute those fuels to consumers.

—NREL Director Dan Arvizu

Chevron believes that nonfood feedstock sources such as algae and cellulose hold the greatest promise to grow the biofuels industry to large scale.

—Don Paul, VP and Chief Technology Officer, Chevron Corporation

Algae are considered a promising potential feedstock for next-generation biofuels because certain species contain high amounts of oil, which could be extracted, processed and refined into transportation fuels using currently available technology. Other benefits of algae as a potential feedstock are their abundance and fast growth rates. Key technical challenges include identifying the strains with the highest oil content and growth rates and developing cost-effective growing and harvesting methods.

Although NREL’s past research on algal biofuels was done with a view toward using the microalgal oil to make conventional biodiesel, the lab has been interested in the possibilities of using refinery-based hyrdoprocessing with microalgal oil to produce a kerosene-like fuel very similar to petroleum-derived commercial and military jet fuels or into a fuel designed for multi-purpose military use. Research priorities in this application area include:

  • Applying current strain selection, screening, and genetic engineering technology to increase lipid yields.

  • Genetically manipulating the mechanism by which microalgae switch back and forth between normal growth and lipid production to maintain high rates for both.

  • Optimizing the lipids produced for hydroprocessing into jet fuels or multi-purpose military fuels.

  • Working with oil refiners to tailor hydroprocessing to use for converting microalgal oil to premium diesel or jet fuel.

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October 31, 2007 in Aviation, Biomass, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)

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Hm, I wonder if there will be a bunch of paranoid comments about the "algae scam" since Big Oil is behind this.

This webpage says that Hydrogen production will increase since the Heavy Crudes which are used more need Hydrogen to make gasolene/diesel.

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2007/10/study-refinerie.html#more

Its good that Chevron works on new sources to get liquid fuels, but will they currently say about the state of Light Crude.

But the best thing is to move to gas based transport using natgas.
http://www.greencar.com/index.cfm?content=flexfuel-times-four

A smaller company Fiat launches a vehicle which can run on natgas, gasolene, ethanol or E25.

I am a bit confused here, why would NREL choose Chevron to partner with, when it is in Chevrons direct interest to not have a replacement for liquid fuels. plus who gets any patents here, do they go to Chevron, and therefore allow them to bury them for 20 years

Perhaps, just perhaps, being locked out of the remaining oil reserves by state oil companies is pushing Chevron to innovate on fuels that are renewable and thus not dependent on geology. This is a company hedging its bets. All the easy oil is gone, and this kind of R&D could pay huge dividends. Partnering with NREL lowers the risk.

It's nice to see a big player with deep pockets involved in this area. This does not guarentee success, but combined with GreenFuel, GreenShift, and a half dozen other small companies, the chances for success is that much better.

You'll also note that they are looking towards aviation fuels which will continue to have a large demand and can't be easily replaced by electricity and would require great expense to replace with hydrogen.

I cannot even fathom how much algae it would take to get a C-130 off of the ground. We will all be neck deep in slime.

Neil was clearly molested by hydrogen as a child.

Rocknerd:

Algae compares very favorably to first generation biofuels, with theoretical yields of 5,000+ gallons per acre. I've lost some confidence that it can actually work recently, considering the major problems GreenFuel has had in getting their system up and running. One of the major problems is cost.

It's going to take some ingenuity to overcome the problems, if they can be.

Kevin posted: "I am a bit confused here, why would NREL choose Chevron to partner with, when it is in Chevrons direct interest to not have a replacement for liquid fuels. plus who gets any patents here, do they go to Chevron, and therefore allow them to bury them for 20 years "

Kevin, it's clear as daylight. Chevron is an oil company looking forward to produce more oil, this time, it is a renewable oil, hopefully for less than $95/barrel. The cost of petro-oil is a moving target, but it looks like that it won't go down due to escalating world-wide demand.

anon: I have no problem with hydrogen. It would be cleaner (depending on source) than bio-fuels. I'm only pointing out that Chevron is aiming at a large captive market (existing airplanes).

Roger,

An alternative theory might be Chevron will make more money in the next 20 years from increases in the price of crude oil, than it can in progressing the alternative fuels strategy, and in 20 years time it will still have the patents on the algae processes and maybe DNA and can exploit them then with a customer expectation of higher fuel prices

Biomass to Liquid should do the trick for supplying future carbon neutral jet fuel. All the forest biomass being burned for hog fuel or in wildfire because they weren't cleared out could be one source. Wheat chaff and other crop residue like in my area (Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho) currently being burned in the open and sent in to the air or tilled under could be another.

Choren of Germany and others seem to be doing just fine getting their systems up and running so why not?

Kevin,
Your concern is valid, since it appears that Chevron (Cobasys joint owner) may have tried to limit production of NiMh battery larger than 10Ah to limit progress in PHEV.
However,if they can make more money from renewable oil, when they will have the patent(s) protection to limit others, then I'm sure they will exploit it. If they can make more money from crude petroleum instead of renewable oil, then it would be unlikely that others would want to go the renewable oil route, either.

Also, if they have limited access to crude oil supply and wanting to make more oil profit, and if renewable oil can be produced at a profit (albeit lower) when sold at same price as crude oil equivalent, then I'm sure that they will also try to have it both ways, making money from both petroleum and renewable oil.

Roger, You're spot on. Chevron's petroleum assets are going to decline as countries nationalize their assets. We've already seen this sort of thing happen in Venezuela . Non-OPEC oil assets are due to peak quite soon. When that happens Chevron's piece of the pie will get smaller and smaller. They have to look for alternatives if they want to stay relevant. Algae holds a lot of promise, though has cervus has pointed out, it has many challenges as well.

The greatest concern here is the distribution of patents. NREL has been working in this area for 20 years. Their patent portfolio as well as foundation of intellectual property should firmly establish a public right to this partnership research. While Chevron should not be prevented from exploiting NREL groundwork or potential profits - energy, especially liquid fuels for aerospace, should not be monopolized. By either private OR public sectors.

There is clearly great potential here - we have advocated for some time in this area. GCC and other enviro groups should watch these developments carefully and support both public and private efforts to grow renewable fuels at home - making sure that technical breakthroughs (e.g GMO algal strains) are available to small business as well as the big guns.

On the whole it is good to see a big energy outfit willing to weigh in on algae. The potential is great for not only jet fuels but plain biodiesel as well.

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