|Virent’s BioForming platform can convert a wide range of biomass-derived feedstocks to fuels and chemicals.|
Shell and Virent Energy Systems, Inc., are collaborating on a joint research and development effort to convert plant sugars directly into “drop-in” gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol. Such biofuels and components can be used at high blend rates in standard gasoline engines, and could potentially eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure, new engine designs and blending equipment.
Virent is exclusive licensee of an aqueous phase reforming (APR) process—developed by its co-founders Dr. Randy Cortright and Dr. Jim Dumesic at the University of Wisconsin - Madison—for the conversion of readily available biomass-generated sugar feedstocks to carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels or hydrogen. (Earlier post.) The sugars can be sourced from non-food sources like corn stover, switch grass, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp, in addition to conventional biofuel feedstock like wheat, corn and sugarcane. The BioForming process is Virent’s first commercial application of the APR pathway.
BioForming is a catalytic, low-temperature (180º–260º C) method for the production of hydrogen or alkanes from oxygenated compounds; the partnership with Shell will focus on optimizing the process for the production of gasoline-like molecules. These new ‘biogasoline’ molecules have higher energy content than ethanol (or butanol) and deliver better fuel efficiency. They can be blended seamlessly to make conventional gasoline or combined with gasoline containing ethanol.
The production process requires little energy and its biofuels separate naturally from water, unlike ethanol which requires energy inputs (61% of its final energy content) to separate it from water, according to the company.
In 2007, Shell Hydrogen, LLC and Virent Energy Systems announced a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent’s BioForming technology platform for hydrogen production. (Earlier post.)
The two companies have so far collaborated for one year on the biogasoline research. The BioForming technology has advanced rapidly, exceeding milestones for yield, product composition, and cost, according to the partners. Future efforts will focus on further improving the technology and scaling it up for larger volume commercial production.
Virent has proven that sugars can be converted into the same hydrocarbon mixtures of today’s gasoline blends. Our products match petroleum gasoline in functionality and performance. Virent’s unique catalytic process uses a variety of biomass-derived feedstocks to generate biogasoline at competitive costs. Our results to date fully justify accelerating commercialization of this technology.—Dr. Randy Cortright, Virent CTO, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President
Huber, G.W.; Chheda, J.N.; Barrett, C.J.; Dumesic, J.A; Production of Liquid Alkanes by Aqueous-Phase Processing of Biomass-Derived Carbohydrates; Science 2005, 308, 1446-1450 DOI: 10.1126/science.1111166