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Virent and Shell Start Production at Biogasoline Demonstration Plant

Virent’s BioForming platform technology. Click to enlarge.

Virent Energy Systems, Inc. and Shell have successfully started production at the first demonstration plant converting plant sugars into gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol.

The demonstration plant, located at Virent's facilities in Madison, Wisconsin, is the latest step in a joint biogasoline research and development effort, announced by both companies in March 2008. (Earlier post.) The demonstration plant has the capacity to produce up to 38,000 liters (10,000 gallons US) per year, which will be used for engine and fleet testing.

Moving from lab-scale to a demonstration production plant is an important milestone for biogasoline. There is some way to go on the route to commercialization, but we have been delighted with the speed of progress achieved by our collaboration with Virent.

—Luis Scoffone, Vice President of Alternative Energies at Shell.

Virent’s BioForming platform technology—based on the Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR) Process (earlier post)—is a catalytic, low-temperature (180º–260º C) method for the production of hydrogen or alkanes from oxygenated compounds. BioForming combines APR technology with conventional catalytic processing technologies such as catalytic hydrotreating and catalytic condensation processes, including ZSM-5 acid condensation, base catalyzed condensation, acid catalyzed dehydration, and alkylation.

As in a conventional petroleum refinery, each of these process steps in the BioForming platform can be optimized and modified to produce a particular slate of desired hydrocarbon products. For example, a gasoline product can be produced using a zeolite (ZSM-5) based process, jet fuel and diesel can be produced using a base catalyzed condensation route, and a high octane fuel can be produced using a dehydration/oligomerization route. The partnership with Shell has focused on optimizing the process for the production of gasoline-like molecules.

The biogasoline fuel molecules have higher energy content than ethanol and deliver better fuel economy. They can be blended seamlessly to make conventional gasoline or combined with gasoline containing ethanol. The sugars can be sourced from non-food feedstocks such as corn stover, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp, in addition to conventional biofuel feedstocks such as wheat, corn and sugarcane. The demonstration plant is currently using beet sugar.

This new biofuel can be blended with gasoline in high concentrations for use in standard gasoline engines. The new product has the potential to eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure, engine modifications, and blending equipment necessary for the use of gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol.

In addition to its work with Virent, Shell’s global biofuels program includes collaborations with Iogen Energy (on the production of enzymatic cellulosic ethanol from agricultural waste), Codexis (on enzyme conversion) and a joint venture called Cellana (research of marine algae for vegetable oil).




What's the ERoEI of biogasoline? How does it compare to other alternatives, like biobutanol?


Interesting potential specially when using cellulosic non-food feed stocks. It may need $100+/barrel fossil fuel to be cost competitive.


And what about emissions? Real pollutants and CO2? This would appear to be a move to co-opt the biofuel markets with proprietary fuel and process. Since making alcohol from waste and cellulose is public domain and can be done easily in a backyard still - it threatens old school oil cos.

Liquid fuel's decreasing need will be relegated to aviation and marine applications. Nearly all other transport will be electrified. Looking ahead most liquid fuel can be sustainably made from waste or farmed algae. No need for bio-gasoline except to stay in the big refinery business.


Shell tells people that they have nitrogen enriched gasoline. In the future they may say they have biogasoline and you should go green. Never underestimate the power of marketing, especially when you control 1000s of fueling stations.


I wouldn't get too confident that liquid fuels will be restricted to aviation and shipping too soon. It is likely that the shift will be graduated and that there will eventually be market shares for both liquid and electric, depending on people's needs and of course progress with the technologies.

For what it is, biogasoline is a very positive step as it does not rely on a sudden change in the vehicle fleet. It can instead rely on the 'natural' change as vehicles wear out and become gradually replaced over time with more spohisticated techologies - more efficient engines, transmissions, hybridisation and so on.

Feedstocks will also expand to sources such as algae and others that we may not be aware of as yet. In he meantime I don't think electric will make a meaningful impact until it becomes more attractive to the market - i.e. vehicles that have a good range equivalent to today's vehicles and can be recharged in the time it takes for a fill-up.

Sure, many journeys are only a few miles, but then aren't these the sort of journeys where it is possible to walk of bike? Aren't these also the types of journeys where greater costs (i.e. fuel) has less of an impact than the cost for a much longer journey? Until there's a revolution in electric tecnology, long journeys will need to rely on biofuels if they are to become more sustainable.


That is the idea, go with something we can use widespread right now and work on a transition to other methods. The thought that 100 million people will just switch to PHEVs and EVs is a bit unrealistic.

We need synthetic fuels like M85 and biofuels like cellulose E85 to reduce oil imports NOW. This is why I believe making all new cars FFV is a good cost effective hedge. For all other cars we can have synthetic gasoline or butanol.


Right Scott. But recharging will happen overnight just like with cell phones.

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