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Virent’s biogasoline passes first test in European auto fleet trial

Virent’s BioForming platform can produce drop-in gasoline, diesel or jet fuels from plant sugars. Source: Virent. Click to enlarge.

Virent has taken another step in the gasoline certification process, successfully completing its first road fleet test organized and executed by Virent collaborator and investor Royal Dutch Shell. Virent’s biogasoline was found to cause “no harm” to vehicles in comparison to Shell’s baseline fuel.

Virent’s BioForming platform (earlier post) is a catalytic, low-temperature (180°–260° C) process that can produce drop-in hydrocarbon fuels from plant-based sugars. BioForming combines Virent’s Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR) technology (earlier post) 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.

Similar to 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 biogasoline 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 Virent BioForming premium gasoline blendstock has a molecular composition identical to fuel made at a petroleum refinery. The sugars can be sourced from conventional biofuel feedstocks such as sugar beets, corn and sugar cane, or as proven recently, from cellulosic biomass like corn stover and pine residuals.

Shell used five identical pairs of late-model European cars for the road trial. Five cars used a baseline Shell gasoline, and the other five cars used Shell gasoline blended with Virent’s biogasoline. Each car was driven 10,000 km (~6,000 miles) over the course of 2010, after which the engines were dismantled and inspected. All ten cars, regardless of the gasoline used, were found to be in the same condition.

The Shell road trial results are encouraging and an important step forward in the commercialization of the BioForming process. Our objective is to replace gasoline made from crude oil with gasoline made from plant sugars, and the fact that the Virent fueled cars performed the same shows we’re off to a good start.

—Lee Edwards, CEO of Virent

The road trial is one of many steps in Virent’s journey towards fuel certification.

The development of Virent’s BioForming technology platform is supported through strategic investors including Cargill, Shell and Honda, as well as 115 employees based in Madison, Wisconsin. The company has received several grants from the US Departments of Commerce, Energy and Agriculture, and has been recognized with many honors, including the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer award and the EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

Earlier in August, Virent was selected to advance to Stage Two of the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium’s (NABC) cellulosic biomass feedstock-to-biofuels program. (Earlier post.) With $35 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the NABC investigated multiple process strategies with potential to convert corn stover or wood chips into “drop-in” liquid fuels that can be used in the existing transportation and distribution infrastructure. Virent successfully created gasoline from both corn stover and wood chips during Stage One of the NABC program.

At the end of the three-year project, Virent expects to deliver a technology package that includes a pilot plant-ready process, a detailed design and engineering report, and a life-cycle analysis.



Sounds promising. And if Shell and other strategic partners invest productively in this technology - on an escalating scale - it will be good for the Energy Independence campaign.

Every gallon of fuel NOT imported from foreign soil is a step toward domestic Energy Independence.


This article begs the question of the field-to-wheels efficiency. Also, the process requires sugars. If sugars of the required purity can't be made form cellulose, this is just one more food-to-fuel process.

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