Shell, Virent Launch Biofuel Plant

MILWAUKEE, March 26 (UPI) — Shell and Virent Energy Systems Inc. have launched production at the world’s first bio gasoline demonstration plant.

Located at Virent’s facility in Madison, Wis., the plant is capable of producing 10,000 gallons of gasoline per year, the firms said in a news release.

“Moving from lab-scale to a demonstration production plant is an important milestone for biogasoline,” said Luis Scoffone, vice president of alternative energies at Shell in a statement. ”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.”

The facility uses Virent’s BioForming technology, which converts plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules like those produced at a petroleum refinery. This differs from the traditional process in which sugars are fermented into ethanol and distilled.

The companies said the new biogasoline molecules have higher energy content than ethanol and deliver better fuel efficiency. Biogasoline can also be blended with gasoline in high concentrations for use in standard gasoline engines — a quality which the industry refers to as “drop-in” biofuel — and can be stored and transported in existing oil industry infrastructure.

Such factors are what have attracted the attention of the world’s biggest oil companies, Aaron Brady, an oil analyst with Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told the Houston Chronicle.

“They want something that looks like gasoline, that looks like diesel,” rather than biofuels that require new infrastructure to produce and distribute, Brady said.

Because of its corrosive properties, corn-based ethanol, now the principal biofuel in the United States, cannot be moved through petroleum pipelines. And, by law, less than 10 percent of a gallon of gasoline can be ethanol.

The plant’s start is the latest step in the joint biogasoline research and development effort announced by Shell and Virent in March 2008. The current focus is on testing the fuel in vehicle fleets. The two companies are exploring plans for large-scale biogasoline production in coming years.

“Virent’s industry-leading collaboration with Shell is focused on delivering material solutions to global challenges in energy security, environment sustainability and job creation,” said Virent Chief Executive Officer Lee Edwards.

Edwards’ background includes 25 years in the energy sector, most recently as president and chief executive officer of BP Solar and president for BP Pipelines North America.

The biogasoline plant is now producing fuel from sugar beets but Edwards said Shell and Virent are also testing other non-food raw materials, including corn stover, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp.

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