(EnergyAsia, April 3, Thursday) — Royal Dutch Shell and Virent Energy Systems Inc of Madison, Wisconsin in the US have announced a joint research and development effort to convert plant sugars directly into gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol.

Shell said 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 specialised 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.

Shell said these new ‘biogasoline’ molecules have higher energy content than ethanol (or butanol) and deliver better fuel efficiency.

The major said: “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,” said Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and C02. “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.”

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.”

Virent is a biofuels company commercialising an advanced biofuel technology to power today’s vehicles in place of fossil fuels. Its patented BioForming(TM) process converts biomass-derived feedstocks into conventional hydrocarbon fuels and products, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.  The process delivers more net energy and offers a scalable, cost-effective alternative to traditional biofuel production routes.

Virent has 68 employees located in a state-of-the-art catalytic biorefining development facility in Madison city.  The technology is based on the aqueous phase reforming process, which Virent has exclusively licensed from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.