Shell, Virent start production at biofuel demonstration plant

Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Virent Energy Systems Inc. started production at a Madison, Wis., demonstration plant converting plant sugars into gasoline blend components.

Paula Dittrick
Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Mar. 23 -- Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Virent Energy Systems Inc. started production at a Madison, Wis., demonstration plant converting plant sugars into gasoline blend components.

The 10,000 gal/year-capacity demonstration plant is the latest step in a joint research and development effort by the two companies (OGJ, Dec. 8, 2008, p. 26).

Virent’s gasoline blend component will be used for engine testing and fleet testing. Currently, the demonstration plant uses beet sugar as its feedstock although it can be reconfigured to use various feedstocks, executives said. The resulting product can be blended to make conventional gasoline or combined with gasoline containing ethanol.

"Moving from lab-scale to a demonstration production plant is an important milestone for biogasoline,'' said Luis Scoffone, Shell’s vice-president of alternative energies from his office in Brussels. “There is some way to go on the route to commercialization.”

Shell and Virent are working to provide a technology for the production of fungible advanced biofuels, including renewable biogasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, Scoffone said.

Lee Edwards, Virent chief executive officer, told reporters during a teleconference call that he envisions the product being blended with gasoline at 50% blend rates or higher for use in standard gasoline engines. The blend rate for the fleet testing has yet to be determined, he said.

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, he said.

Virent's patented BioForming platform technology uses catalysts to convert plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules like those currently being produced by refineries. Virent's fuel molecules have the energy content of premium gasoline, Edwards said.

The sugars can be sourced from nonfood feedstocks such as corn stover, wheat straw, and sugarcane pulp as well as from crops including wheat, corn and sugarcane.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com

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