Bioenergy

Virent & Shell Building Biogasoline Plant

Virent Energy Systems Inc. and Shell announced the start of production at the world’s first demonstration plant that converts sugars into gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol. The demonstration plant, located at Virent’s facilities in Madison, Wisconsin, is the latest step in a joint biogasoline research and development effort, announced by both companies in March 2008.

The demonstration plant has the capacity to produce up to 38,000 liters (10,000 U.S. gallons) per year, which will be used for engine and fleet testing.

This new biofuel can be blended with gasoline in high concentrations for use in standard gasoline engines. Shell says that the product has the potential to eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure, engine modifications, and blending equipment necessary for the use of gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol.

Virent’s patented BioForming platform technology uses catalysts to convert plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules like those produced at a petroleum refinery to make gasoline. In ethanol production, sugars are fermented and distilled.

The sugars Virent and Shell are using can be sourced from non-food feedstocks such as corn stover, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp, in addition to conventional biofuel feedstocks such as wheat, corn and sugarcane. The demonstration plant is currently using beet sugar.

“Moving from lab-scale to a demonstration production plant is an important milestone for biogasoline,’’ said Luis Scoffone, VP of Alternative Energies at Shell. ‘‘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.’’