Chevron Pursues Next-Generation Biofuels

Chevron Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of Chevron Corp., has committed to invest up to $25 million in the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) over the next five years to research, develop and advance technology aimed at converting cellulosic biomass into transportation fuel. The multi-million dollar investment is the latest in a string of joint ventures between major corporations, universities and research institutes as the race to find a viable alternative to corn-based ethanol production heats up.

According to Chevron officials, the company’s investment in advanced biofuels research is the logical next step in its pursuit of commercially viable technologies across the energy spectrum, including geothermal, hydrogen, biofuels, wind and solar energy. “We think it’s important to pursue research that could accelerate the use of biofuels since we believe they may play an integral role in diversifying the world’s energy sources. Developing next-generation processing technology will help broaden the choice of feedstocks, including cellulosic materials,” said Don Paul, vice president and chief technology officer, Chevron Corporation. This is the second major investment in cellulosic advancement by Chevron in recent months. In June, the energy company pledged up to $12 million over the next five years to the Georgia Institute of Technology for research on cellulosic biofuels and hydrogen. Chevron’s interest in next-generation biofuels is a good fit with UC Davis’s expertise in alternative fuels and transportation systems, said Barry Klein, vice chancellor for research, UC Davis. “Adding Chevron’s support for biofuel studies to the picture complements our present efforts and puts us all closer to our shared goal of driving on clean, affordable energy,” said Klein. The objective of the Chevron-UC Davis research is to develop commercially viable processes for the production of transportation fuels from renewable resources such as new energy crops, forest and agricultural residues, and municipal solid waste. The researchers will address the vast range of variables — from genetics to thermochemical reactions to economics – as well as create a demonstration facility to test the commercial readiness of these technologies. Chevron and UC Davis will also work with the California Biomass Collaborative, a mostly state-funded organization that helps coordinate industry, government, academic and environmental groups’ work on biomass management and use, to focus on renewable feedstocks available in California, including agricultural waste such as rice straw. California’s huge agricultural industry could be a key source of the raw material for the new biofuels, said Rick Zalesky, vice president of biofuels and hydrogen for Chevron Technology Ventures. “Once developed, next-generation processing technology will allow locally grown biomass to be harvested, processed into transportation fuels, and distributed to consumers.” The collaboration is expected to focus its research on four areas: — Understanding the characteristics of current California biofuel feedstocks. — Developing additional feedstocks optimized for features such as drought tolerance, minimalland requirements and harvesting technology. — Production of cellulosic biofuels. — Design and construction of a demonstration facility for biochemical and thermochemical production processes. Daniel Sperling, director of UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies and an international authority on R&D in advanced transportation fuels and fuel technology, said campus and Chevron leaders had been talking for two years about making a large commitment to biofuels research.
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