Shell and Virent Partner to Produce 'Biogasoline'

Shell and Virent Partner to Produce 'Biogasoline'

Royal Dutch Shell and Virent Energy Systems inc. formed a five-year partnership to produce a gasoline alternative from plant sugars that won't impact food prices or need modified gasoline engines.

The deal follows a larger trend of oil companies investing in biofuel research. For instance, BP is working with several universities, such as University of California at Berkley and Arizona State University, to transform low-carbon feedstocks into biofuels.

And Chevron has partnered with Weyerhaeuser Co., a paper and wood business, to form Catchlight Energy to explore converting nonfood substances into biofuels.

The sugars used in the deal between Shell and Virent also will come from non-food sources, such as switch grass or wheat straw, but can also use conventional biofuel feedstocks wheat, corn and sugarcane. Food-based feedstocks have come under attack in recent months because of concerns that using food crops will drive up food prices and that deforestation is taking place to make room for new food-based biofuel crops.

The partnership will use Virent's BioForming technology to convert plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules similar to those created in conventional petroleum refineries. Instead of fermenting the sugars into ethanol and distilled, the molecules have higher energy content than ethanol and can be blended to make conventional gasoline or mixed with gasoline containing ethanol.

The new "biogasoline" can be used in conventional engines, unlike ethanol, which must be blended with gasoline or used in modified engines.

The companies have worked together on research for one year. Further testing will take place during the next two years before construction of a demonstration conversion plant that will be about a quarter of the size of a typical commercial plant, the Associated Press reported.