Shell biodiesel
Shell biodiesel. Click image to enlarge

Madison, Wisconsin – Shell and Virent Energy Systems Inc. have announced a joint research and development effort to convert plant sugars directly into gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol. The collaboration could result in the availability of new biofuels that can be used at high blend rates in standard gasoline engines, potentially eliminating the need for specialized infrastructure, new engine designs and blending equipment.

Virent’s BioForming 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. The new biogasoline molecules have higher energy content than ethanol, deliver better fuel economy, and can be seamlessly blended to make conventional gasoline, or combined with gasoline containing ethanol.

These sugars can be sourced from non-food sources such as corn stover, switchgrass, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp, in addition to feedstock such as wheat, corn and sugarcane.

The companies have collaborated for one year on the research so far and report that the technology has advanced rapidly, exceeding milestones for yield, product composition and cost. Future efforts will focus on further improving the technology and scaling up for larger-volume commercial production.

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