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Biogasoline from Shell

I think the general consensus was that the recent claims of agricultural researcher J.C. Bell don’t appear to be too compelling. However, as I mentioned, the conversion of biomass into oil or gasoline should be technically achievable. And today, Bob Rohatensky sent me a link to a story that would appear to have a little more meat to it than Bell’s claims:

Shell and Virent announce collaboration to develop biogasoline

Shell and Virent Energy Systems, Inc., (Virent (TM)) of Madison, Wisconsin USA, today announced a joint research and development effort to convert plant sugars directly into gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol.

The collaboration could herald the availability of new biofuels that can be used at high blend rates in standard gasoline engines. This could potentially eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure, new engine designs and blending equipment.

Virent’s BioForming(TM) platform technology uses catalysts to convert plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules like those produced at a petroleum refinery. Traditionally, sugars have been fermented into ethanol and distilled. 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 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 companies have so far collaborated for one year on the research. The BioForming(TM) technology has advanced rapidly, exceeding milestones for yield, product composition, and cost. Future efforts will focus on further improving the technology and scaling it up for larger volume commercial production.

“The technical properties of today’s biofuels pose some challenges to widespread adoption,” Dr. Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and C02 said. “Fuel distribution infrastructure and vehicle engines are being modified to cope but new fuels on the horizon, such as Virent’s, with characteristics similar or even superior to gasoline and diesel, are very exciting.”

Dr. Randy Cortright, Virent CTO, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President said, “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.”

This also reiterates what I have said before: Thermochemical processes such as this are an area to watch. There would be multiple advantages over biological processes for producing fuels. Something tells me that Shell will find this more fertile ground than their investments in Iogen.

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March 26, 2008 - Posted by | biogasoline, Shell, Virent

11 Comments

  1. I saw on the U.S. Forest Products Labs they mention a thermochemical process called “liquid metal flash pyrolysis”. Seems like it solves some of the problems with tar formation. Its still in the research stage but it is a lot different than the traditional steam/air fluidized bed designs I’ve seen. the link is split:http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/pdf2007/fpl_2007_dietenberger001.pdf

    Comment by tournamentmonkey | March 26, 2008

  2. Shell has been pouring money into R&D. It may be paying off.They also claim to be able to produce high-quality oil from shale for $30 a barrel. They put hot rods into the ground, heat to 600 degrees. Voila, high-grade oil.Might be able to ramp up to 2 mbd, then 5 mbd in long-run.So. Naysayers say we cannot become energy-independent. With 5 mbd from shale, and PHEVs. and nukes, wind, solar and geothermal, we are independent.And we get cleaner air, and a better balance-of-payments. Actually, I think the future is very bright.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | March 27, 2008

  3. I wonder if their process uses the lignin fraction as well or just hemi-cellulose, cellulose and simple sugars

    Comment by Max | March 27, 2008

  4. Dumesic of Wisconsin was working on DMF (dimethylfuran) from biomass. He had a paper in Nature in June 2007. Lanny Schmidt of U of Minnesota wrote the summary story in Nature.I was guessing that Robert was secretly involved with them. I guess I was wrong.

    Comment by dennis moore | March 27, 2008

  5. I should have mentioned that Dumesic is part of virent. That wasn’t mentioned in the linked story. It was noted over at greencarcongress.

    Comment by dennis moore | March 27, 2008

  6. <>They also claim to be able to produce high-quality oil from shale for $30 a barrel. They put hot rods into the ground, heat to 600 degrees. Voila, high-grade oil.<>EROEI is questionable. Shell claims 3:1, but the pilot uses electric heat. If the “1” in the 3:1 is electric energy, then the overall EROEI is roughly unity because it takes 3 units of oil energy to create one unit of electricity. In other words, if you used the oil output to run generators and make electricity for ground heating you’d have no oil left over to sell to the outside world.The process might still work economically if you use cheap feedstocks (e.g. coal) to generate electricity. This basically makes shale oil a coal-to-liquids scheme as opposed to a real energy source (much like US corn ethanol is mostly a natural gas-to-liquids scheme).It’s possible Shell’s 3:1 is a true thermal-to-thermal ratio, i.e. the “1” is not electric energy but the thermal energy needed to create the electricity. Reading between the lines this does not seem to be the case, but to my knowledge Shell has never said one way or the other.It’s also possible they simply used electric resistance for convenience during the pilot and plan to use thermal heat in full-scale versions. There’s no reason you can’t pipe hot oil or steam or something down into the ground, which should be an easy way to boost EROEI.

    Comment by doggydogworld | March 27, 2008

  7. Dennis,I think Dumesic’s thinking has evolved significantly since he started working in this field. Three to four years ago he was all about converting biomass into the then favorite: hydrogen.Now he seems to appreciate the significant advantages that liquid hydrocarbons offer. He seems to have adapted his technology accordingly.All in all, a man to watch!

    Comment by Optimist | March 27, 2008

  8. This looks good. Question:Any waste to deal with, toxic or otherwise?Any by products?I like Ethanol via the old fashioned methods as not only do You get fuel for under 2 bucks a gallon, You also get livestock feed and what passes through the animals goes back to the field, creating a loop that builds topsoil and increases the quality of food we eat.If Shell’s process doesn’t return something good to the soil, then it will enable this country to remain on course to go the way of Greek Agriculture.

    Comment by Roberto de Sonora | March 28, 2008

  9. More comic relief from Roberto.<>I like Ethanol via the old fashioned methods as not only do You get fuel for under 2 bucks a gallon,…<>Under $2/gal? What planet is that? Or should I say what galaxy? Of course, with ethanol’s lower energy content that would be equivalent to gasoline at $3/gal.<>…You also get livestock feed and what passes through the animals goes back to the field, creating a loop that builds topsoil and increases the quality of food we eat.<>As mentioned before, we need orders of magnitude more energy than food. With all that excess baggage, you will completely oversupply the market for animal feed, etc.Just look at chemical industry: most processes that produce two unrelated products end up selling one and giving the other away.Ethanol is <>not<> the fuel of the future, in spite of the elected fools’ insistence to the opposite. The markets are showing this already.If you are looking for a life sustaining loop, find a way to recycle the nutrients in sewage to the land. That way fertilizer production automatically keeps pace with population growth.<>If Shell’s process doesn’t return something good to the soil, then it will enable this country to remain on course to go the way of Greek Agriculture.<>Huh? What does Shell owe the soil? Taking garbage and converting it to fuel is more than enough environmental benefit. And as an oil company they are more likely than most to do so profitably.I think you meant fuel ethanol is going the way of Greek Agriculture.

    Comment by Optimist | March 28, 2008

  10. More response from the World’s Most Caustic Optimist! 🙂 I can see You have not taken time to read Blume’s 600 page Bible on Ethanol AND Permaculture which solves many problems if this mode of thinking and acting were followed.>You get fuel for under 2 bucks a gallon,…Yes. The process heat to distill is from Methane from cattle manure, or direct from distillation residue.That is not using corn at 320 gpa, but crops that net over 800 gpa to even 2500 gpa.>Of course, with ethanol’s lower energy content that would be equivalent to gasoline at $3/gal.Not when a engine designed for Ethanol is between 43 and 46% thermal efficient and a pump gas engine is only 20% TE. btw:I am driving a 92 Subaru Multiport buring E-85 and pump gas at a ~7 to ~4 ratio at an average cost of 2.78 a gallon last week. My mileage is just a hair over 21 mpg which is as good as pump gas ever was. I am running one gear taller and that makes all the difference. Driving in the same gears as using 100% pump gas costs me 14% mpg. Pump gas $3.09, E-85 $2.59 …You also get livestock feed and what passes through the animals goes back to the field, after pulling methane out, creating a loop that builds topsoil and increases the quality of food we eat.>As mentioned before, we need orders of magnitude more energy than food. With all that excess baggage, you will completely oversupply the market for animal feed, etc.Not true in the least.It’s all in Blume’s book.All that is removed in making Ethanol is the carbs, the result is cattle feed that is higher in protein, fats, and minerals. Healthier for livestock, and weighs about half the original. You won’t supply too much from corn as the price of corn is geting up there. Besides, livestock can’t eat 100% except fish.Other opportunities open up as the residues are also much higher in protein. Breakfast cereals and other products will come out of this shift. U.S. Corn crop might actually increase in terms of direct Human use toward 2% of the total crop. It will cost a bit more to feed cattle but the resulting cattle will be eating forage closer to what nature intended, since raw corn is a horrible food for cattle. Not much better for swine either.>Just look at chemical industry: most processes that produce two unrelated products end up selling one and giving the other away.Yes. Lets look:Like “Giving” coal fly ash that buries sections of land?Or “Giving” Sulfur mountains so large from Oil production that one can see them from the Space Shuttle as it orbits Earth?>Ethanol is not the fuel of the future, Bull. There are places for every fuel. We are going to need everything we have to get out of the mess we are in. Have You looked at the price of Gold and Silver relative to the Dollar?>If you are looking for a life sustaining loop, find a way to recycle the nutrients in sewage to the land. That way fertilizer production automatically keeps pace with population growth.Good Idea! It’s already detailed in Blume’s “Alcohol can be a Gas” for making NET: 50 billion gallons Ethanol plus 100 Billion gallons (Eq.) as methane.If Shell’s process doesn’t return something good to the soil, then it will enable this country to remain on course to go the way of Greek Agriculture.>Huh? What does Shell owe the soil? Taking garbage and converting it to fuel is more than enough environmental benefit. If it is garbage from landfills I agree whole heartedly. If the source is fiber and nutrients from agriculture, IOW what is taken from soil, it must be replaced or the soil suffers as well as Your nutrition.>And as an oil company they are more likely than most to do so profitably. Sure. Profits that don’t account for the cost of moving their product all over Earth at Our expense. Remember, $3.00 gas is only a down payment, servicing the National Debt which is largely a result of the so called Defense Establishment is the rest of the bill. Be certain to add what You pay in Income taxes since that is what services the U.S. Debt to your gasoline bill and then tell me what you are spending per gallon of gas.I will wait while You cipher Your numbers a bit,,,,

    Comment by Roberto de Sonora | March 28, 2008

  11. <> can see You have not taken time to read Blume’s 600 page Bible on Ethanol AND Permaculture which solves many problems if this mode of thinking and acting were followed.<>Sorry, dude, I’m not going to read Blume’s thesis. There simply is not enough minutes in a day. If Blume had a worthwhile theory you should have been able to communicate the essence of it by now. Your failure, by and large (IMHO), to address ethanol’s shortcomings is answer enough for me.<>Yes. The process heat to distill is from Methane from cattle manure, or direct from distillation residue.<>And if you didn’t have to waste so much heat on distillation, you could convert that biogas into clean electricity and do something useful with it.<>That is not using corn at 320 gpa, but crops that net over 800 gpa to even 2500 gpa.<>Still small potatoes then.<>I am driving a 92 Subaru Multiport buring E-85 and pump gas at a ~7 to ~4 ratio at an average cost of 2.78 a gallon last week. My mileage is just a hair over 21 mpg which is as good as pump gas ever was. I am running one gear taller and that makes all the difference. Driving in the same gears as using 100% pump gas costs me 14% mpg. Pump gas $3.09, E-85 $2.59<>Well, that’s great for you! Other seem to report much more significant mileage loss when switching to E85. Not sure what you mean with <>running one gear taller<>.<>Yes. Lets look:Like “Giving” coal fly ash that buries sections of land?Or “Giving” Sulfur mountains so large from Oil production that one can see them from the Space Shuttle as it orbits Earth?<>So we’re in agreement then: typically you have one primary product and everything else becomes waste. Remember that when you wax on about the expected benefits of DDGS.<>Bull. There are places for every fuel. We are going to need everything we have to get out of the mess we are in. Have You looked at the price of Gold and Silver relative to the Dollar?<>I would say the high prices of commodities mean we should stop screwing around with unworkable options, like ethanol, and focus our energy on the promising technologies, like gasification. You know, the ones that don’t screw up food prices in the the process.I would aim for diversity in feedstocks, not fuels. If we are able to make our gasoline from garbage, forest waste and other waste products, we would be in a much better position to handle $100+/bbl oil.<>If it is garbage from landfills I agree whole heartedly.<>I always said that that is the logical starting place for biofuels. DOE are you listening? If Roberto and I can agree on this, it should be pretty obvious!<>If the source is fiber and nutrients from agriculture, IOW what is taken from soil, it must be replaced or the soil suffers as well as Your nutrition.<>You seem to view the soil as some mystical source that needs our spiritual involvement to function properly. I don’t. What we take out can be replaced.<>Remember, $3.00 gas is only a down payment, servicing the National Debt which is largely a result of the so called Defense Establishment is the rest of the bill.<>Now you are talking politics. Don’t worry, he’s only got 9 months left of screwing things up. Whether the next administration will do much better is an open question. But at least they would find it near impossible to do worse.

    Comment by Optimist | March 28, 2008


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